History of Justices of the Peace

The Attorney-General's Department

History of Justices of the Peace

The origin of Justices of the Peace has been traced back to Britain in 1195, when Richard the Lionheart commissioned certain knights to preserve the peace in unruly areas. They were responsible to the King for ensuring that the law was upheld and they were known as Custodes Pacis (Keepers of the Peace). The Custodes Pacis were the forefathers of Justices of the Peace.

During the early 1320s, Keepers of the Peace were appointed in each county, and by the 1340s these keepers had powers to hear and determine trespasses and punish offenders. The title, Justice of the Peace, derives from 1361 during the reign of Edward III, making the office one of the oldest in the common law system.

Over time, Justices of the Peace in Britain were authorised to perform functions ranging from hearing and determining offences to licensing public houses. Justices of the Peace in Australia today play a more limited role and have little in common with their earlier British counterparts.

Justices of the Peace were recognised in the Australian colonies from 1788, and the first Justice of the Peace was appointed after the settlement of South Australia in 1836.

There are no national Justices of the Peace in Australia. Each state and territory has its own legislation to regulate the appointment and powers of Justices of the Peace. The functions of the office are different from state to state and witnessing requirements also differ between jurisdictions.

For more information contact Justice of the Peace Services.

Last updated: 
Thursday, 21 March 2013
Printer-friendly versionSend by email