A Justice of the Peace (JP) is a puisne judicial officer appointed by means of a commission to keep the peace. Depending on the jurisdiction, they might dispense summary justice and deal with local administrative applications in common law jurisdictions. Justices of the Peace are appointed or elected from the citizens of the jurisdiction in which they serve, and are (or were) usually not required to have a formal legal education in order to qualify for the office. Some jurisdictions have varying forms of training for JPs (for example Queensland and Victoria, Australia, and the United Kingdom).
An Act of 1327 had referred to "good and lawful men" to be appointed in every county in the land to "guard the peace"; such individuals were first referred to as Conservators of the Peace, or Wardens of the Peace. The title "Justice of the Peace" derives from 1361, in the reign of King Edward III Plantagenet. The "peace" to be guarded is the "King's peace" or (currently) Queen's peace, the maintenance of which is the duty of the Crown under the royal prerogative. Justices of the Peace still use the power conferred or re-conferred on them in 1361 to bind over unruly persons "to be of good behaviour." The bind over is not a punishment, but a preventive measure, intended to ensure that people thought likely to offend will not do so. The justices' alternative title of "magistrate" dates from the sixteenth century, although the word had been in use two hundred years earlier to describe some legal officials of Roman times.
The Municipal Corporations Act 1835 stripped the power to appoint normal JPs from those municipal corporations that had it. This was replaced by the present system, where the Lord Chancellor nominates candidates with local advice, for appointment by the Crown.
Until the introduction of elected county councils in the 19th century, JPs, in Quarter Sessions, also administered the county at a local level. They fixed wages, regulated food supplies, built and controlled roads and bridges, and undertook to provide and supervise locally those services mandated by the Crown and Parliament for the welfare of the county.
Being an unpaid office, undertaken more for the sake of renown and to confirm the justice's standing within the community, the justice was typically a member of the gentry. The Justices of the Peace conducted arraignments in all criminal cases, and tried misdemeanours and infractions of local ordinances and bylaws. Towns and boroughs with enough burdensome judicial business that could not find volunteers for the unpaid role of Justice of the Peace had to petition the Crown for authority to hire a paid stipendiary magistrate.
In the centuries from the Tudor period until the onset of the Industrial Revolution, the JPs constituted a major element of the English (later British) government system, which had been termed sometimes squirearchy (i.e., dominance of the land-owning gentry). For example, historian Tim Blanning notes that while in Britain the royal prerogative was decisively curbed by the 1689 Bill of Rights, in practice the central government in London had a greater ability to get its policies implemented in the rural outlying regions than could contemporary absolute monarchies such as France - a paradox due especially to JPs belonging to the same social class as the Members of Parliament and thus having a direct interest in getting laws actually enforced and implemented on the ground.
Women were not allowed to become JPs until 1919, the first woman being Ada Summers, the Mayor of Stalybridge, who was a JP by virtue of her office. Now in Britain 50% of JPs are women.
In special circumstances, a justice of the peace can be the highest governmental representative, so in fact 'gubernatorial', in a colonial entity. This was the case in the Tati Concession Land, a gold-mining concession (territory) in the Matabele kingdom, until its annexation by the British Bechuanaland protectorate.
Generally speaking, a Justice of the Peace cannot act in relation to a document which is to be used in a foreign country. One exception to this, however, is that countries in the Commonwealth frequently accept documents so certified, but this is largely dependent on local legislation.
Documents which are to be used in a foreign country that does not provide for a foreign JP to witness them should be dealt with by a notary public. This is the same for all countries where the office of a Justice of the Peace exists. Notary publics are appointed from amongst the ranks of solicitors and barristers, and the best way to locate one is to contact your local law society.
Some justices are appointed as Justice of the Peace (magistrates' court), usually in remote aboriginal communities, to perform many of the functions that might otherwise fall to a stipendiary magistrate.
In Queensland, Justices of the Peace, Commissioner for Declarations (JP C.Dec) have powers limited to witnessing documents, witnessing statutory declarations, witnessing affidavits, witnessing and administering oaths and affirmations.
Justices of the Peace
Justices of the Peace (JPs) provide a service to the community as independent witnesses of statutory declarations, powers of attorney and affidavits. JPs are recommended by the state Attorney-General and appointed by the Governor-General in Council, and it is their job to authorise and witness statutory declarations and affidavits within the state of Victoria. There are currently more than 4,000 JPs serving in all areas of the state.
The role of a bail justice is to hear bail applications (under the Bail Act 1977) and to hear applications for interim accommodation orders for children (under the Children and Young Persons Act 1989) within Victoria. Bail justices, once appointed, may remain in their role until they turn 70 years of age (although they must be under 65 at the time of their appointment). They are often required to attend call outs and rule on bail applications or protection applications for children in danger on weekends and late at night when the courts are closed, but they can also witness Victorian statutory declarations and affidavits. Candidates must successfully complete a three-day training course run by Victoria Police, the Magistrates' Court, and the Department of Justice. Bail justices also have some limited powers under federal legislation, including the power to conduct interstate extradition hearings and extending question time for federal police.
This aspect aside, Justice of the Peace in NSW typically receive statutory declarations and affidavits - primarily administrative tasks.
Justices of the Peace can be located in courthouses, municipal councils, and many public service offices. Previously a lifetime appointment, the term was limited to five years from 8 December 2003 at which time all previous lifetime appointments lapsed. The New South Wales Government provides a web service that allows people to locate a suitable JP: here
A Justice of the Peace (JP) in South Australia is typically someone of good stature in the community who is authorised to witness and sign statutory declarations, affidavits, waiver rights, search warrants, drug warrants, divorce documents, and to certify copies of original documents and to witness the signing of power of attorney and guardianship documents, providing the JP is satisfied with the capability of the signatory.
A Special Justice (SJ) is a higher level of Justice of the Peace in South Australia; they sit casually on the bench of the magistrates' court hearing cases in the petty division.
The South Australian Attorney-General has set up a web site to locate Justices of the Peace: The majority of metropolitan and many regional Councils (Local Government authorities) have a rotational Justice of the Peace in residence at nominated times.
Canada is a vast country and Justices are often the only magistrates in some regions. In the Northwest Territories, Justices are regularly assigned to hear federal crimes. However, in more populated provinces Justices usually preside over bail hearings and provincial offences courts. When not in a court session, a Justice can perform other judicial functions, such as issuing search warrants.
In Ontario, Justices perform a wide variety of duties related to criminal and regulatory law, at the federal, provincial and municipal levels. Current information on the role of a Justice in Ontario can be found at role of Justices in Ontario Information on qualifications and selection criteria can be found at Qualifications for Justices in Ontario
They also have certain powers to issue search warrants, and (in conjunction with another Justice of the Peace) may try minor criminal trials in the district court and exercise powers to remand defendants in custody, grant bail, and adjourn court hearings. They are nominated for office by local Members of Parliament.
In addition to the lay justices, there are a small number of district judges (magistrates' court), formerly known as stipendiary magistrates. These are legally-qualified, full-time members of the magistracy and hear cases alone, without any other magistrates on the bench. It is important to distinguish the district judge (magistrates' court) from the district judges who usually sit in the county court.
Magistrates' courts today can deal with minor offences (fines of up to £5,000, and imprisonment of up to 6 months or 12 months for consecutive sentences) and handle over 95% of the criminal cases in England and Wales and Northern Ireland. With more serious offences, magistrates are responsible for indictment and committal to the Crown Court (a task in former times dealt with by a grand jury). Magistrates also had some limited civil jurisdiction, such as licensing applications, although these functions were mostly removed from them under the Licensing Act 2003 and transferred to local authorities. The Magistrates now act in licensing matters only as an appeal court from the decisions of the local authority.
Until the Courts Act 2003 came into force, magistrates were tied to a particular area (see magistrates' court committee, commission area, petty sessions area). This has now been changed such that they are assigned to local justice areas, but less strongly.
The Justices of the Peace Act 1997 provides the current framework for appointment of the justices, which is done by the Lord Chancellor in the name of Her Majesty. Justices can also be removed by the same mechanism. District judges (magistrates' court) must have a 7 years' general qualification, and are appointed by Her Majesty on the advice of the Lord Chancellor.
Within the Scottish legal system Justices of the Peace are lay magistrates who currently sit in the Scottish District Courts. These courts were introduced in 1975 as replacement for burgh police courts. Justices sit alone or in threes with a qualified legal assessor as convener or clerk of court. They handle many cases of breach of the peace, drunkenness, minor assaults, petty theft, and offences under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982.
In Glasgow, the volume of business requires the employment of three solicitors as "stipendiary magistrates" who sit in place of the lay justices. The stipendiary magistrates' court has the same sentencing power as the summary sheriff court. However, in 2006, the Scottish Government announced its intention to unify the management of the sheriff and district courts in Scotland, but retaining lay justices, as part of its initiative to create a unified judiciary under the Lord President.
The Justice of the Peace, or solicitor general, typically presides over a court that hears misdemeanor cases, traffic violations, and other petty criminal infractions. The Justice of the Peace may also have authority over cases involving small debts, landlord and tenant disputes, or other small claims court proceedings. Proceedings before Justices of the Peace are often faster and less formal than the proceedings in other courts. In some jurisdictions a party convicted or found liable before a Justice of the Peace may have the right to a trial de novo before the judge of a higher court rather than an appeal strictly considered.
In Arizona, a Justice of the Peace has the same jurisdiction as a municipal magistrate with respect to traffic and misdemeanor cases and restraining orders. Additionally, JP court hears civil law suits up to a limit of $10,000, small claims cases, and issues evictions, called writs of forcible or special detainer. Justices, also called judges of the Justice Court, are elected in partisan elections for four year terms from specific districts called precincts. They have the same authority and responsibility as all other judges in the state with respect performing marriages, administrating oaths, adhering to the code of judicial conduct, and all aspects of justice administration.
The Justice of the Peace is also the judge to whom parties seeking a civil marriage can repair. In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Justices of the Peace are often called on to perform marriages, and especially same-sex marriages which certain religious officials are not willing to do. In Connecticut, Justices of the Peace can preside over same-sex civil unions which became legal in October 2005. Unlike Massachusetts, Connecticut JPs are not penalized for refusing to perform such ceremonies.
In Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont, Justices of the Peace have the same general oath giving powers as a notary public.
In New Hampshire, Justices of the Peace are commissioned magisterial officers, appointed by the Governor and Executive Council to terms of five years, with the power to administer oaths, acknowledge instruments, perform marriage ceremonies and, effective January 1, 2008, solemnize civil unions for same-sex couples. They may also order compulsory mental examinations for good cause, act as a magisterial official regarding enforcement complaints on orders for isolation or quarantine issued by the Commissioner of Health and Human Services, administer oaths of office to public officials, take depositions and issue subpoenas. New Hampshire Justices of the Peace are also authorized, upon a showing of probable cause supported by affidavit, to issue arrest warrants, search warrants, administrative inspection warrants and by court appointment, to fix and receive bail in criminal cases.
In Arkansas, a Justice of the Peace is an elected official equivalent to a county commissioner or county supervisor. Arkansas JPs sit on a county quorum court, composed of 11, 13 or 15 JPs. The quorum court is a part-time body, elected from single-member districts, that has overall responsibility for county affairs. Among their responsibilities are passing the budget, creating new ordinances (at the misdemeanor level), setting property tax millage levels, and working with other elected officials. The full-time elected county administrator, who presides over the quorum court, is the county judge. Neither JPs nor the county judge has any judicial authority, other than the right to preside over civil marriages. Justices of the Peace are elected every two years to these partisan offices.
In many states, the office of Justice of the Peace has been abolished or transferred to another court, such as the magistrate court. In larger cities, cases may be heard in a municipal court which has jurisdiction only within that city. Most efforts to abolish the office of Justice of the Peace have been led by the American Bar Association, which views non-lawyer judges as no longer necessary, as there are now far more persons with formal legal education than in the past when Justices of the Peace were first used.
California formerly had Justice of the Peace courts staffed by lay judges, but began phasing them out after a landmark 1974 decision in which the Supreme Court of California unanimously held that it was a violation of federal due process (under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution) to allow a non-lawyer to preside over a criminal trial which could result in incarceration of the defendant. The remaining justice courts (as well as municipal courts) were eliminated by the passage of Proposition 220 in June 1998, which merged all lower courts within the state judicial branch into the superior courts (the courts of general jurisdiction). Under current California law, all California judges must be licensed attorneys.
Notably, the Supreme Court of the United States disagreed with California's analysis of the Fourteenth Amendment in the landmark case of North v. Russell, , in which the Court held that Kentucky's use of nonlawyer judges in its police courts was not a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees of due process and equal protection of the laws.