Justice of the Peace

Justice of the Peace, also called magistrate, stipendiary and JP. An ancient public office that originated in medieval England (a 1361 statute authorized the office and defined its duties), and is still in use in common-law countries. The Tudor monarchs found them invaluable for administering local affairs, and the duties of local government were only replaced in the 19th century in response to the new ideologies and urbanization associated with the industrial age. Little noticed by historians, JPs were present bearing the burdens of local administration in all American and British North American colonies from the earliest days: in NS from 1721, in Québec (where captains of militia were used like JPs) from 1760, and in the Ontario region from the 1780s.

Justices of the peace in quarter sessions were the local government in central and eastern Canada until supplanted by elective county councils, NS being the last (with the Counties Incorporation Act) in 1879. The Canadian West opened under Hudson's Bay Company administration, limiting JPs to their judicial functions. Red River (Winnipeg) had JPs from 1821 and Victoria from 1849. Stipendiary magistrates with the "powers of two JPs" were the principal judges of the early prairie West, while North-West Mounted Police commissioners and superintendents held JP commissions.

Justices of the peace are appointed in numbers, never in single isolation, to specific districts. Essentially they are private citizens - most have not been lawyers - of good standing in their community, appointed by the provincial government to hear "informations" and "complaints (of crimes)" and to initiate appropriate legal process. In their day, they have provided workable and reasonably effective local government. The office of JP continues to evolve.