1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Justice of the Peace
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, “hath 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, forestalling, regratings, engrossing, 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. 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 £100. By an act of 1875 the occupation of a house rated at £100 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 residence 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.
- 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.