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JPs to replace lawyers and magistrates in plan to clear backlog of Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal civil disputes

JUSTICES of the Peace with no legal training will take the place of lawyers and magistrates under a plan to clear case backlogs clogging Queensland's key tribunal.

With many JPs now only witnessing signatures on documents in shopping centres, the "major reform" has alarmed lawyers.

JPs, with only a few weeks' training, now will decide some of the most contentious Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal civil disputes over debts, dividing fences, property damage, residential tenancy, and consumer and trader disputes.

Some JPs are already making minor decisions in magistrates courts in remote communities.

"This is the area that needs the most skilled lawyers," one lawyer said yesterday. "Generally they are very narrow issues, very emotive issues."

Legal professionals have labelled the JP proposal a "cut price" lawyer scheme and have expressed concern that JPs will not have the legal training to recognise rules of law and principles of evidence.

"It would be like going into hospital and having an orderly conduct an operation," the lawyer said. "Even if it were a minor one, I wouldn't want someone doing it to me."

Queensland Law Society president John de Groot said: "The society would be supportive of initiatives to have more people with appropriate legal experience to deal with these matters."

While QCAT members and adjudicators, who are lawyers or magistrates, are paid to hear minor civil disputes in the busy tribunal, it is not known how much, or if, JPs would be paid.

JPs, who receive three weeks' training, are not paid for their services in the community.

Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie said the Government had committed to trial an extension to the Justices of the Peace (Magistrates Court) program to help reduce the backlog of QCAT matters.

"This trial is a significant opportunity to revitalise frontline justice services to ensure Queenslanders have access to swift and fair justice," he said yesterday.

A submission will go to Cabinet in coming months.

COMMENT:  What an excellent idea.  This is not unlike the system in Western Australia which also covers pleas of guilty in simple cases such as shoplifting etc.  The Queensland proposal should be extended to cover such cases. -