The part played by lay magistrates in the judicial system of England and Wales can be traced back to the year 1195. In that year Richard 1 commissioned certain knights to preserve the peace in unruly areas. They were responsible to the King for ensuring the law was upheld; they preserved the 'King's Peace' and were known as Keepers of the Peace.
The Office of Justice of the Peace has a long and honourable history and was officially established in England in 1327 to replace Keepers of the Peace which were established in 1195.
The title Justices of the Peace derives from 1361, in the reign of Edward III. An Act in 1327 had referred to 'good and lawful' men to be appointed in every county to 'guard the peace'. Justices of the Peace still retain the power 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.
With the colonisation of Australia in 1788, Governor Phillip was appointed as the first Justice of the Peace on this continent. Today, Justices of the Peace within Australia are established and administered by the legislation in each State and Territory and within the ACT by the ACT Justices of the Peace Act.
Further information on the history of Justices of the Peace is available from a variety of sources including: