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Council supports proposal to make JPs more responsible

I am pleased to be here and speak before distinguished guests and participants attending this seminar. I understand that this event, jointly organised by the Council of the Justices of the Peace, Sabah (MAJAPS) and the Sabah Law Association (SLA), is a follow-up to a successful seminar held on the 13th September 2008 that focused on the Constitutional Rights of Sabah and Sarawak within the Federation of Malaysia. I must congratulate both MAJAPS and SLA for once again organising today's seminar.

I am confident this seminar will benefit not only those in the legal fraternity but also the public who will get a chance to listen to distinguished speakers on how the courts function. I understand that participants will be updated on constitutional developments in Malaysia in the context of the Federal Constitution by Professor Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi, a Professor of Law and Constitutional Law expert at UiTM. I also note that the three branches of government - the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary - are here today and while one branch should not interfere in the business of another, it does not mean that they cannot cooperate or complement each other for the good of the people, as stated in the 1Malaysia concept introduced by our Prime Minister, YAB Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

The Mobile Court initiative in Sabah and Sarawak, the brain-child of Tan Sri Richard Malanjum, is a good example of the cooperation between the Judiciary and the Executive. The Mobile Court not only involves Magistrates but also Commissioners of Oath, lawyers and JPs as well as representatives from the Immigration and Registration Departments. These courts assist the Government in the early registration of births in remote villages, the reporting of crimes and the presence of illegal immigrants. The existence of Mobile Courts could vastly improve not only the delivery system of Justice but also that of the Executive.

The Sabah Government is willing and ready to help the Mobile Court system. Two years ago, we gave two vehicles so that officers involved in carrying out duties under the Mobile Court system could travel to remote areas. The State Government is also looking forward in cooperating in other areas. As you may be aware, we allocated 5 acres of land in Likas for the construction of a new Court House for Kota Kinabalu. We are committed in making sure that the Judiciary has space and facilities to serve the public.

On the constitutional rights of Sabah as a State within the Federation of Malaysia, let me assure you that we are put in power by the people to safeguard and enhance these rights. Decisions made in the highest Courts in the Country have consistently upheld the special constitutional provisions in the Federal Constitution accorded to Sabah and Sarawak. The Federal decision in a recent Sarawak case, I am advised, was an assurance of the exclusive rights of the lawyers of Sabah and Sarawak to appear in appellate proceedings held anywhere in Malaysia on matters originating in Sabah and Sarawak.

Our Justices of the Peace in Sabah, are also vested with certain powers and duties under some of the country's laws. In some cases, most of the powers vested on JPs are also vested on senior police officers. For instance, Section 27 of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 gives JPs certain powers such as the powers to inspect and seize if there is reasonable cause to believe that an offence under the Act had been committed or will be committed.

An overview of the various relevant statutory provisions would give a clear ambit of powers, functions and duties that are accorded to the Justices of the Peace. JPs can also authencitate documents relating to the Societies Act, Powers of Attorney Act and some other legislation. However in Sabah, under the Subordinate Courts (Powers of Justices of the Peace) (Sabah) Regulations 1990, JPs are authorised and are required to administer oaths and affirmations, to make and receive statutory declarations and to attest signatures under any written law or when required to do so similar to a Second Class Magistrate. In addition, the most common duty of the JPs is to witness signatures of other persons to documents such as wills, transfers of land and property, share transfers in companies and to sign certified true copies of important documents for official usage.

I am made to understand that members of MAJAPS are interested in contributing more meaningfully to society apart from their present duties under the law. The appointment of JPs as Second Class Magistrates to preside over minor offences such as traffic violations, and municipal offences could reduce the burden of subordinate courts. Another area where JPs can contribute perhaps is by their appointment to the Prisons Visitors Board.

The Sabah Government supports these proposals and I will refer this matter to the State A-G's Chambers for feedback in order to take the necessary steps to consider the request by MAJAPS to have legally qualified JPs appointed as Second Class Magistrates so that they can preside over minor cases in the lower courts.

I hope you take the opportunity to gain new insights at this seminar, and use the information you get here to further strengthen the role of the Judiciary in Sabah and Malaysia. I wish you a fruitful meeting, and I now officially declare this seminar open.

Thank you.

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