JP role in providing Lay Justice
Lay justice in Scotland is provided by Justices of the Peace (JPs). The role of JPs in Scotland dates back to 1609, when the role was created to perform various administrative, judicial and policing functions. The role has changed considerably in the past 400 years and JPs now provide an important judicial function. There are currently around 300 JPs in Scotland and they sit in specific JP Courts, of which there are presently 34 in major towns and cities across Scotland.
JPs are appointed from the general public in Scotland, and anyone may apply for a JP position when vacancies arise. Since 2007 all JPs are appointed by the Justice Secretary of the Scottish Government, and are supported in their role by the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS), a non-ministerial department which is independent of the Scottish Government. For judicial administrative arrangements Scotland has been divided into six separate regional Sheriffdoms, and each JP is appointed to one of these Sheriffdoms. Each Sheriffdom is also responsible for the selection process of JPs for their courts. A JP is appointed for a period of 5 years, which may be extended for further 5-year periods subject to the agreement of both the JP and SCTS. JPs are expected to retire from the bench on reaching the age of 70. Prior to sitting on the bench a JP must successfully complete twenty-four hours of training. Additionally, in order to retain their appointment as a JP they must complete a further twelve hours of training each year and must sit on the bench at least twelve times each year.
The role of a JP is voluntary and no remuneration is paid to JPs for any of their work or activities. JPs may only claim for necessarily incurred travel and subsistence costs.
Judicial Role of JPs
JPs sit as judges to hear cases in the JP Courts. Cases are allocated to the JP Courts by the Crown Office and Procurator-Fiscal Service (COPFS). They allocate all cases to the different judicial levels of Courts in Scotland ; namely, the High Court of Judiciary, or to Sheriff Courts, both solemn and summary courts as well as JP Courts. COPFS determine which Court to allocate cases based on the Police reports and other evidence. JPs handle the cases which are regarded at the lower end of severity as JPs are limited in their sentencing powers to up to 60 days imprisonment and/or a fine of £2,500, and have discretionary powers covering the disqualification of drivers. Typically JPs hear lower tariff road traffic offences, breach of the peace, shoplifting and other minor theft offences, minor assault charges and other public offences. JPs are expected to sit in three different types of sitting of the Court (known as diets in Scotland), these are firstly, the Pleading diet, at which any plea of Not Guilty is followed by the allocation of an Intermediate Diet and then the Trial Diet four weeks after the Intermediate Diet. The purpose of the Intermediate Diet is ensure both parties are ready for trial, all witnesses have been identified and cited, and that relevant prosecution evidence has been disclosed to the defence. In addition JPs in some Sheriffdoms sit in the Custody Court, which is a daily court which hears the pleas of accused persons which have been held in Police custody overnight. Again these Custody Court cases are at the lower end of severity.
For all Court Diets JPs sit on the bench on their own, but are accompanied by a Legal Advisor, who gives advice on legal issues but has no role in the decision making.
Other Duties of a JP
In addition to judicial activities JPs also have a significant role in undertaking signing duties. These include Police search warrants for stolen property or illegal drugs; warrants for the forcible entry of premises as allowed under statute by utility companies or Local Government authorities, confirmation of affidavits for divorce applications or any other sworn documents.
The Scottish Justices Association (SJA)
The SJA is the representative body for all JPs in Scotland. Membership of this organisation is available to all serving JPs and has no membership fee as the SJA receives a very small grant from the Scottish Government. The SJA ensures that JP’s views and interests are provided at all levels in Judicial Bodies and Committees.