2. History and Development of Justices of the Peace

Justice of the Peace Handbook

2.1 The Origins of JPs

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

Throughout the early 1300s, Keepers of the Peace were appointed by each county and had the power to hear and determine trespasses and punish offenders. The title, Justice of the Peace, derived from the reign of Edward III in 1361. During this time, JPs in Britain were authorised to perform functions ranging from hearing and determining offences to licensing public houses. JPs were recognised in the Australian colonies from 1788. Captain William Lonsdale, the first officially appointed JP in the settlement of Port Philip, and Ensign George King would hear cases together.

JPs in Victoria were first appointed under Victorian Acts from 1851 for the administration of Justice in the colony. A number of Acts in the 19th and 20th centuries further regularised the activities and responsibilities of JPs.

You can find out more about the history of JPs in the Honorary Justice Services Support downloadable PDF: Keeping the Peace: History of Honorary Justices in Victoria.

2.2 The contemporary Australian JP

JPs in Australia today play a more limited role and have little in common with their earlier British counterparts. Modern JPs in Australia are volunteers who are chosen because they are regarded as honourable members of the community. There are no national JPs in Australia; each state and territory has its own legislation to regulate the appointment and powers of JPs. The functions of the office and witnessing requirements differ between jurisdictions.

There are no reciprocal arrangements or transfers of JP appointments from one state or territory to another. JPs from interstate who permanently live in Victoria can apply for an appointment in Victoria through the same process as other applicants. All past community service is considered during the appointment process.

Other jurisdictions’ JP training ranges from the sitting of a simple exam to fully accredited TAFE courses. There are no exams or TAFE courses in Victoria. JPs in Victoria are required to undertake training before their appointment, and this training includes a formal assessment component.

In Victoria, JPs are appointed by the Governor in Council on the recommendation of the Attorney-General.1 Their role involves attesting to the execution of documents, witnessing statutory declarations and affidavits, certifying identity, and certifying document copies. While the traditional JP role called for a very formal demeanour and dress, the modern JP is encouraged to present in a professional and approachable way.


[1] Section 7, Honorary Justices Act 2014