Justice of the Peace, or simply JP, is a lower court judicial officer who is elected to keep the peace. Their roles include dispensing summary justice or dealing with local governmental applications in common law jurisdictions. They are appointed from the citizens of the jurisdiction where they serve. To qualify for the position, they usually do not have to hold any prior formal legal education, other than the Justice of the Peace qualification. A JP’s training will sometimes depend on the jurisdiction.
Being a JP has many different jobs – like attesting and witnessing certain documents, addressing statutory declarations, certifying copies of original documents, and handling other affidavits – but perhaps the most common function of this position is holding justice and claims in the civil court. They make sure that these processes are being dealt with carefully and quickly so as to close the matters promptly.
The status as “keepers of the peace” goes back to as early as the 12th century, during the rule of King Richard I “the Lionheart” of England. They were ordered by the King and Minister Hubert Walter to preserve the “King’s peace” particularly in disorderly areas. It was only in the 1300s when the title “Justice of the Peace” became known, during the rule of King Edward III, where the JPs were upholding the sovereign peace, a duty of the Crown under the royal prerogative.
At this point, all individuals acting as peacekeepers were all men, as women were not allowed to hold such a position of power. In 1919, the Mayor of Stalybridge, Ada Summers became a JP by virtue of her office. She was appointed officially as JP the next year, together with Miriam Lightowler OBE in Halifax. Preceded her as JP was Emily Murphy of Edmonton. Currently, 50% of JPs in the United Kingdom are women.
Justices in Australia
JPs in Australia perform almost the same roles as the common JP—witnessing, signing, and certifying affidavits, statutory declarations, as well as original document copies. In addition to that, they have specific jobs that they play in certain states.
In Victoria, JPs, alongside bail justices, who are volunteers, are responsible for serving semi-judicial functions, such as witnessing affidavits, powers of attorney, and statutory declarations, as well as hearing bail applications within the state. A bail justice hears bail matters, under the Children and Younger Persons Act 1989 and Bail Act 1977.
JPs are endorsed by the state attorney general and appointed by the governor in council.
As of 2017, there are 4,800 justices serving in all areas of Victoria.
Unlike other states, a qualified JP in Queensland is able to issue arrest and search warrants. In conjunction with another qualified JP, they can also adjourn court hearings and grant bail.
Even without supplementary education or qualification, a lawyer can become a JP and possess the full powers of a JP in the Magistrate’s Court.
New South Wales
Similar to the general role of the JP, the justices in New South Wales also witness affidavit and statutory declaration signings and certify true copies of original document copies. Anyone who is honest, living within the state, and knowledgeable of the responsibilities of a JP is able to serve the position for five years. Such responsibilities include not charging fees for affidavits, coaching or writing the affidavit or statutory declaration, and giving people legal advice.
When it comes to performing marriages, couples will need the service of a marriage celebrant, not a JP. In NSW, a justice cannot be automatically a celebrant. He/she will have to speak to the Commonwealth Attorney General’s Department to know how to be qualified as one.
Should you be interested in becoming a judicial officer who provides justice services, there are learning and training institutions that offer Justice of the Peace courses online and in-class. Enrol today!