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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).



In 1195, Richard I ("the Lionheart") of England commissioned certain knights to preserve the peace in unruly areas. They were responsible to the King for ensuring that the law was upheld, and preserved the "King's Peace", and were known as Keepers of the Peace.

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.[1]

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[2] that while in Britain the royal prerogative was decisively curbed by the Bill of Rights 1689, 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.

Modern use


A Justice of the Peace in Australia is typically someone of good stature in the community who is authorised to witness and sign statutory declarations and affidavits and to certify copies of original documents. Criteria for appointment vary widely, depending on the state. For example, in Queensland, a Justice of the Peace (qualified) must complete an exam prior to being eligible for appointment, whereas in Victoria, a person need only prove good character by way of references.

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.


In the state of Queensland, a "Justice of the Peace (qualified)" has the additional powers to issue search warrants, arrest warrants, justices examination orders, and (in conjunction with another Justice of the Peace (qualified) constitute a magistrates' court and exercise powers to remand defendants in custody, grant bail, and adjourn court hearings.

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 and bail justices are appointed to serve a semi-judicial function in all areas of the Victorian community. The main official roles they play in the Victorian community include witnessing statutory declarations, witnessing affidavits and hearing bail matters outside court hours (bail justices only).

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-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.

Bail justices

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.


New South Wales

Justices of the Peace perform few judicial functions, if any, in New South Wales. Those justices employed by the Attorney-General's Department can issue some kinds of warrant, and perform minor judicial functions such as granting bail outside normal court sitting hours. These powers are increasingly being transferred to Registrars of the Local Court, who (usually, but not always) have legal qualifications.

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.

South Australia

In South Australia, there are two types of justices: Justice of the Peace and special justices.

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: [2]. The majority of metropolitan and many regional Councils (Local Government authorities) have a rotational Justice of the Peace in residence at nominated times.


In Canada, Justice of the Peace (Justices) play a key role in the administration of justice at the provincial level. Justices are appointed by the lieutenant governors of Canada's provinces, and by the commissioners of Canada's territories, on the advice of their relevant premier or Attorney General.

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.

  • In British Columbia, pursuant to the Provincial Court Act, all judges are Justices of the Peace, and hence all of them are Peace Officers.

Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, the historical functions of Justices of the Peace have been replaced by full-time, legally-qualified magistrates. Nowadays, Justices of the Peace are essentially titles of honour given by the Government to community leaders, and to certain officials while they are in their terms of offices. They have no judicial functions, and their main duties include visiting prisons, institutions for young offenders and drug addicts, psychiatric hospitals, remand homes, places of refuge, reception and detention centres [3], administering statutory declarations, and serving as members of advisory panels.


In India, Justices of the Peace do exist [3], but is no longer a prominent post. Among the famous JPs was Kavasji Jamshedji Petigara.


A Justice of the Peace (JP), according to the Ministry of Justice, is a person of unquestionable integrity who seeks to promote and protect the rights of the individual and helps to provide justice to persons in a particular community. Additionally, the JP serves as a justice in petty court sessions, attends juvenile court sessions, issues summonses, considers applications for bail, explains and signs legal documents, sits on licensing panels, and gives counsel/advice. Any Jamaican citizen that can speak and write English is eligible to become a JP. Any club/organisation/citizen can recommend someone to become JP for a community. JPs are chosen under the Governor-General's discretion.


In Malaysia, Justices of the Peace have largely been replaced in magistrates' courts by legally-qualified (first-class) stipendiary magistrates. However, state governments continue to appoint Justices of the Peace as honours. In 2004, some associations of Justices of the Peace pressed the federal government to allow Justices of the Peace to sit as second-class magistrates in order to reduce the backlog of cases in the courts.

New Zealand

A Justice of the Peace in New Zealand is someone of good stature in the community who is authorized to witness and sign statutory declarations and affidavits.

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.

Sri Lanka

Justice of the Peace (JP) is an honorary post, with authorization to witness and sign statutory declarations and affidavits. JPs are chosen under the Minister of Justice's discretion. Any citizen of Sri Lanka can apply to the Ministry of Justice giving his or her credentials to be appointed as a Justice of the Peace. However, the applicant should be one who has served the public and carries out social service and should be of good standing. Mostly the Minister of Justice appoints JPs as honours.

United Kingdom

England and Wales

Law of England and Wales

This article is part of the series:
Courts of England and Wales


Ministry of Justice
Secretary of State for Justice
Her Majesty's Courts Service

Civil courts

Privy Council
House of Lords
Lord of Appeal in Ordinary
Court of Appeal
Master of the Rolls
Lord Justice of Appeal
High Court of Justice
President of the Queen's Bench
President of the Family Division
Chancellor of the High Court
High Court judge
County Courts
List of County Courts
County Court Bulk Centre
District Judge

Criminal courts

House of Lords
Lord of Appeal in Ordinary
Court of Appeal
Lord Chief Justice
Lord Justice of Appeal
High Court of Justice
President of the Queen's Bench
High Court judge
Crown Court
List of Crown Court venues
Circuit Judge
Magistrates' Court
District Judge
Justice of the Peace

Criminal justice

Attorney General
Director of Public Prosecutions
Crown Prosecution Service

Barristers and solicitors

Bar Council
Law Society of England and Wales
Solicitor Advocate

A magistrates' court in England and Wales is composed of a bench of (usually three) JPs or magistrates, who dispense summary justice: that is they decide on offences which carry up to six months in prison. They are advised on points of law by a legally-qualified clerk. No formal qualifications are required but magistrates need intelligence, common sense, integrity and the capacity to act fairly. Membership is widely spread throughout the local area and drawn from all walks of life. All magistrates are carefully trained before sitting and continue to receive training throughout their service. Magistrates are unpaid volunteers but they may receive allowances to cover travelling expenses and subsistence. Lay justices or magistrates must sit for a minimum of 26 sessions (half-days) per year, but some sit as much as a day a week.

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[4]. 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 Courts Act 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) - previously known as Stipendiary Magistrates - must have a 7 years' general legal 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.

United States

In some U.S. states, the Justice of the Peace is a judge of a court of limited jurisdiction, a magistrate, or a quasi-judicial official with certain statutory or common law magisterial powers.

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. However, Arizona law doesn't require justices of the peace to be lawyers or have a juris doctor. Many justices of the peace are not law trained. In contrast to justices of the peace, municipal judges in Arizona are required to be lawyers.

The Justice of the Peace is also the judge to whom parties seeking a civil marriage can repair. Justices of the Peace in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are often called on to perform marriages and, especially, same-sex marriages which certain religious officials are not willing to do. Justices of the Peace in Connecticut can preside over same-sex civil unions Connecticut Justices of the Peace will preside over gay marriage ceremonies beginning October 28, 2008. Unlike Massachusetts, Connecticut JPs are not penalized for refusing to perform such ceremonies.

Justices of the Peace in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont have the same general oath-giving powers as a notary public.

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 [4] and, effective January 1, 2008, solemnize civil unions for same-sex couples. [5] They may also order compulsory mental examinations for good cause, [6] act as a magisterial official regarding enforcement complaints on orders for isolation or quarantine issued by the Commissioner of Health and Human Services, [7] administer oaths of office to public officials, [8] [9] take depositions [10] and issue subpoenas. [11] [12] New Hampshire Justices of the Peace are also authorized, upon a showing of probable cause supported by affidavit, to issue arrest warrants, [13] [14] search warrants,[15] administrative inspection warrants [16] and by court appointment, to fix and receive bail in criminal cases. [17] [18] [19]

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 9, 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.

Replacement of Justice of the Peace courts by other courts

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.[5] 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, 427 U.S. 328 (1976), 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.

See also


  1. Oxford English Dictionary: Magistrate. Oxford University Press. 1989. 
  2. Tim Blanning, "The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648-1815", Penguin, 2007
  3. About Justice of the Peace, Government of Hong Kong
  4. [1] Judicial Profiles - Magistrates
  5. Gordon v. Justice Court, 12 Cal. 3d 323 (1974).

Sources and external links





Hong Kong




New Zealand


United Kingdom

United States

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

JUSTICE OF THE PEACE, an inferior magistrate appointed in England by special commission under the great seal to keep the peace within the jurisdiction for which he is appointed. The title is commonly abbreviated to J.P. and is used after the name. "The whole Christian world," said Coke, "bath not the like office as justice of the peace if duly executed." Lord Cowper, on the other hand, described them as "men sometimes illiterate and frequently bigoted and prejudiced." The truth is that the justices of the peace perform without any other reward than the consequence they acquire from their office a large amount of work indispensable to the administration of the law, and (though usually not professional lawyers, and therefore apt to be ill-informed in some of their decisions) for the most part they discharge their duties with becoming good sense and impartiality. For centuries they have necessarily been chosen mainly from the landed class of country gentlemen, usually Conservative in politics; and in recent years the attempt has been made by the Liberal party to reduce the balance by appointing others than those belonging to the landed gentry, such as tradesmen, Nonconformist ministers, and working-men. But it has been recognized that the appointment of justices according to their political views is undesirable, and in 1909 a royal commission was appointed to consider and report whether any and what steps should be taken to facilitate the selection of the most suitable persons to be justices of the peace irrespective of creed and political opinion. In great centres of population, when the judicial business of justices is heavy, it has been found necessary to appoint paid justices or stipendiary magistrates' to do the work, and an extension of the system to the country districts has been often advocated.

The commission of the peace assigns to justices the duty of keeping and causing to be kept all ordinances and statutes for the good of the peace and for preservation of the same, and for the quiet rule and government of the people, and further assigns "to you and every two or more of you (of whom any one of the aforesaid A, B, C, D, &c., we will, shall be one) to inquire the truth more fully by the oath of good and lawful men of the county of all and all manner of felonies, poisonings, enchantments, sorceries, arts, magic, trespasses, forestallings, regratings, engrossings, and extortions whatever." This part of the commission is the authority for the jurisdiction of the justices in sessions. Justices named specially in the parenthetical clause are said to be on the quorum. Justices for counties are appointed by the Crown on the advice of the lord chancellor, and usually with the recommendation of the lord lieutenant of the county. Justices for boroughs having municipal corporations and separate commissions of the peace are appointed by the crown, the lord chancellor either adopting the recommendation of the town council or acting independently. Justices cannot act as such until they have taken the oath of allegiance and the judicial oath. A justice for a borough while acting as such must reside in or within seven miles of the borough or occupy a house, warehouse or other property in the borough, but he need not be a burgess. The mayor of a borough is ex officio a justice during his year of office and the succeeding year. He takes precedence over all borough justices, but not over justices acting in and for the county in which the borough or any part thereof is situated, unless when acting in relation to the business of the borough.

1 Where a borough council desire the appointment of a stipendiary magistrate they may present a petition for the same to the secretary of state and it is thereupon lawful for the king to appoint to that office a barrister of seven years' standing. He is by virtue of his office a justice for the borough, and receives a yearly salary, payable in four equal quarterly instalments. On a vacancy, application must again be made as for a first appointment. There may be more than one stipendiary magistrate for a borough.

The chairman of a county council is ex officio a justice of the peace for the county, and the chairman of an urban or rural district council for the county in which the district is situated. Justices cannot act beyond the limits of the jurisdiction for which they are appointed, and the warrant of a justice cannot be executed out of his jurisdiction unless it be backed, that is, endorsed by a justice of the jurisdiction in which it is to be carried into execution. A justice improperly refusing to act on his office, or acting partially and corruptly, may be proceeded against by a criminal information, and a justice refusing to act may be compelled to do so by the High Court of Justice. An action will lie against a justice for any act done by him in excess of his jurisdiction, and for any act within his jurisdiction which has been done wrongfully and with malice, and without reasonable or probable cause. But no action can be brought against a justice for a wrongful conviction until it has been quashed. By the Justices' Qualification Act 1744, every justice for a county was required to have an estate of freehold, copyhold, or customary tenure in fee, for life or a given term, of the yearly value of roo. By an act of 1875 the occupation of a house rated at £loo was made a qualification. No such qualifications were ever required for a borough justice, and it was not until 1906 that county justices were put on the same footing in this respect. The Justices of the Peace Act 1906 did away with all qualification by estate. It also removed the necessity for residentg within the county, permitting the same residential qualification as for borough justices, "within seven miles thereof." The same act removed the disqualification of solicitors to be county justices and assimilated to the existing power to remove other justices from the commission of the peace the power to exclude ex officio justices.

The justices for every petty sessional division of a county or for a borough having a separate commission of the peace must appoint a fit person to be their salaried clerk. He must be either a barrister of not less than fourteen years' standing, or a solicitor of the supreme court, or have served for not less than seven years as a clerk to a police or stipendiary magistrate or to a metropolitan police court. An alderman or councillor of a borough must not be appointed as clerk, nor can a clerk of the peace for the borough or for the county in which the borough is situated be appointed. A borough clerk is not allowed to prosecute. The salary of a justice's clerk comes, in London, out of the police fund; in counties out of the county fund; in county boroughs out of the borough fund, and in other boroughs out of the county fund.

The vast and multifarious duties of the justices cover some portion of every important head of the criminal law, and extend to a considerable number of matters relating to the civil law.

In the United States these officers are sometimes appointed by the executive, sometimes elected. In some states, justices of the peace have jurisdiction in civil cases given to them by local regulations.

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