Sunday, 07 June 2020


Justices of the Peace contribution to the service

Local Justices of the Peace, Walter Russell and Gary Fowler, were awarded certificates acknowledging their contribution to the service, at a meeting held at Hikuai Hall on June 18.

Walter Russell of Whitianga received the award on his retirement, after 44 years offering this free and confidential service to his community.  Gary Fowler of Hikuai was acknowledged for 30 years of service as a JP.

Walter signed up for the voluntary role in 1973. At that time there was only one policeman and one undertaker on the eastern side of the peninsula.  The only acting JP left town and the policeman asked Walter if he would take on the work.

“There was no coroner and I was required to sign certificates, search warrants, and other paperwork. In the early days you might sign one paper a week. Now it is getting up to 10 a day, some of them quite complicated.”

Walter has also served the Whitianga community many years in key roles and was awarded the Queen’s Service Medal in 2014 for services to NZ Fire Service. He has been involved with the local Coastguard as well as Search and Rescue operations. He is chairman of the Coromandel Rescue Helicopter Trust and actively involved in saving the Rescue Helicopter Service based in Whitianga.

Gary Fowler told The Informer he was nominated by a member of his farming community years ago, and he felt honoured.

 “Back in those days you were given a manual to read. I remember going to Tirau Court, where somebody shook my hand, and suddenly I was a fully-fledged JP.  But now it’s become a more formal process.”

After Gary sold his farm at Matamata and moved to Pauanui, he continued serving as a JP. He had already been doing mediation work when he became a judge in 1996. This involved studying a course of 12 assignments over two years. He presided at Waihi Court for five years, and then did Thames Court as well. During that time the court system changed, to include depositions hearings.
“I saw a side of society that people do not normally see, and I became very appreciative of my own up-bringing. Sadly, I saw young people make the wrong decisions and suffer the consequences of this. There are some cases that continue to play in my mind.

 “During some of the hearings I could see people doing stuff in the court that was not acceptable and had to ask that they be removed. We were always reminded that, as a judge, it was our court.

 “When you are working in a close environment you get to know the people, and I have a lot of respect for the people that work in the court system.”

Gary received a Queen’s Service Medal for community services and services to agriculture. He led the move to complete the Pauanui Trail, continuing the dream of the late Ian Hopper. With his wife, Anne, he was also responsible for the annual Concerts in the Orchard, held at the family farm over a decade and still remembered fondly by locals and visitors.

Justices of the Peace have been serving the country since 1814 and are appointed to provide a range of duties important in the administration of New Zealand.

Their functions fall into two categories, ministerial and judicial duties. All Justices of the Peace carry out ministerial duties, but further training is undertaken before they provide judicial duties.    

Ministerial duties include taking oaths and declarations, witnessing signatures and certifying copies. Judicial duties include hearing summary offences, presiding over preliminary hearings and conducting traffic courts. They also hear bail applications and requests for remands and adjournments.

Along with the jury system, judicial JPs represent the participation of ordinary people in the administration of justice in New Zealand. They perform a great service to the communities they belong to.


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