A justice of the peace (JP) is a judicial officer, of a lower or puisne court, elected or appointed by means of a commission (letters patent) to keep the peace. In past centuries the term commissioner of the peace was often used with the same meaning. Depending on the jurisdiction, such justices dispense summary justice or merely deal with local administrative applications in common law jurisdictions. Justices of the peace are appointed or elected from the citizens of the jurisdiction in which they serve, and are (or were) usually not required to have any formal legal education in order to qualify for the office. Some jurisdictions have varying forms of training for JPs.
In 1195, Richard I ("the Lionheart") of England commissioned certain knights to preserve the peace in unruly areas. They were responsible to the King for ensuring that the law was upheld, and preserved the "King's peace", and were known as "keepers of the peace".
An Act of 1327 had referred to "good and lawful men" to be appointed in every county in the land to "guard the peace"; such individuals were first referred to as conservators of the peace, or wardens of the peace. The title justice of the peace derives from 1361, in the reign of King Edward III Plantagenet. The "peace" to be guarded is the sovereign's, the maintenance of which is the duty of the Crown under the royal prerogative. Justices of the peace still use the power conferred or re-conferred on them since 1361 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. The justices' alternative title of "magistrate" dates from the 16th century, although the word had been in use centuries earlier to describe some legal officials of Roman times.
In the centuries from the Tudor period until the onset of the Industrial Revolution, the JPs constituted a major element of the English (later British) governmental system, which had been termed sometimes squirearchy (i.e., dominance of the land-owning gentry). For example, historian Tim Blanning notes that while in Britain the royal prerogative was decisively curbed by the Bill of Rights 1689, in practice the central government in London had a greater ability to get its policies implemented in the rural outlying regions than could contemporary absolute monarchies such as France – a paradox due especially to JPs belonging to the same social class as the Members of Parliament and thus having a direct interest in getting laws actually enforced and implemented on the ground.
Being an unpaid office, undertaken voluntarily and sometimes more for the sake of renown or to confirm the justice's standing within the community, the justice was typically a member of the gentry. The justices of the peace conducted arraignments in all criminal cases, and tried misdemeanours and infractions of local ordinances and bylaws. Towns and boroughs with enough burdensome judicial business that could not find volunteers for the unpaid role of justice of the peace had to petition the Crown for authority to hire a paid stipendiary magistrate.
The Municipal Corporations Act 1835 stripped the power to appoint normal JPs from those municipal corporations that had it. This was replaced by the present system, where the Lord Chancellor nominates candidates with local advice, for appointment by the Crown.
Until the introduction of elected county councils in the 19th century, JPs, in quarter sessions, also administered the county at a local level. They fixed wages, regulated food supplies, built and controlled roads and bridges, and undertook to provide and supervise locally those services mandated by the Crown and Parliament for the welfare of the county.
Women were not allowed to become JPs in the United Kingdom until 1919, the first woman being Ada Summers, the Mayor of Stalybridge, who was a JP by virtue of her office. Emily Murphy of Edmonton, Canada, preceded her by some three and a half years. Now in the UK, 50% of JPs are women.
In special circumstances, a justice of the peace can be the highest governmental representative, so in fact 'gubernatorial', in a colonial entity. This was the case in the Tati Concessions Land, a gold-mining concession (territory) in the Matabele kingdom, until its annexation by the British Bechuanaland protectorate.
A justice of the peace in Australia is typically someone of good stature in the community who is authorised to witness and sign statutory declarations and affidavits and to certify copies of original documents. Criteria for appointment vary widely, depending on the state. For example, in Queensland, a justice of the peace (qualified) must complete an exam prior to being eligible for appointment, whereas in Victoria, a person need only prove good character by way of references.
Generally speaking, a justice of the peace cannot act in relation to a document which is to be used in a foreign country. One exception to this, however, is that countries in the Commonwealth frequently accept documents so certified, but this is largely dependent on local legislation.
Documents which are to be used in a foreign country that does not provide for a foreign JP to witness them should be dealt with by a notary public. This is the same for all countries where the office of justice of the peace exists. Notaries public are often solicitors or barristers, and the best way to locate one is to contact your local law society.
In the state of Queensland, a "justice of the peace (qualified)" has the additional powers to issue search warrants, arrest warrants, Justices Examination Orders, and in conjunction with another justice of the peace (qualified) constitute a magistrates' court for exercising powers to remand defendants in custody, grant bail, and adjourn court hearings.
Some justices are appointed as justice of the peace (magistrates' court), usually in remote aboriginal communities, to perform many of the functions that might otherwise fall to a stipendiary magistrate.
In Queensland, a commissioner for declarations (C.dec) has powers limited to witnessing documents, witnessing statutory declarations, witnessing affidavits, witnessing and administering oaths and affirmations.
Justices of the peace and bail justices, who are also volunteers, are appointed to serve a semi-judicial function in all areas of the Victorian community. The main official roles in the Victorian community include witnessing statutory declarations, witnessing affidavits and hearing bail matters outside court hours (bail justices only).
Justices of the peace (JPs) provide a service to the community as independent witnesses of statutory declarations, powers of attorney and affidavits. JPs, who are also volunteers, are recommended by the state attorney-general and appointed by the governor-in-council, and it is their job to authorise and witness statutory declarations and affidavits within the state of Victoria. There are currently around 4,800 JPs serving in all areas of the state.
The role of a bail justice is to hear bail applications (under the Bail Act 1977) and to hear applications for interim accommodation orders for children (under the Children and Young Persons Act 1989) within Victoria. Bail justices, once appointed, may remain in their role until they turn 70 years of age (although they must be under 65 at the time of their appointment). They are often required to attend call outs and rule on bail applications or protection applications for children in danger on weekends and late at night when the courts are closed, but they can also witness Victorian statutory declarations and affidavits. Candidates must successfully complete a three-day training course run by the Department of Justice. Bail justices, who are also volunteers, also have some limited powers under federal legislation, including the power to conduct interstate extradition hearings and extending question time for federal police. Bail Justices may use the Post Nominals BJ after their names.
The most common functions performed by a Justice of the Peace (JP) in NSW are to witness the signing of a statutory declaration, witness the signing of an affidavit and certify that a copy of an original document is a true copy.
JPs are appointed by the Governor of New South Wales for five-year terms. They are volunteers, who come from all walks of life and all sections of the community. JPs are people who are trusted to be honest, careful and impartial, when performing the functions of a JP. A JP must not charge you a fee or accept a gift for providing JP services; tell you what to write in a statutory declaration or affidavit, or write it for you; or give you legal advice. 
Ways to find a JP in NSW include:
1) Search the JP Public Register for a JP near you. The Register lists all JPs for each postcode area, and provides a telephone contact number for JPs who serve the community directly. (You can also search the Public Register by entering a JP’s name or registration number, to confirm that he or she holds a current appointment as a JP).
2) Check a public listing of Scheduled JP Services to find when JPs are available at scheduled times and locations across NSW.
In South Australia, there are two types of justices: Justice of the peace and special justices.
A justice of the peace (JP) in South Australia is typically someone of good stature in the community who is authorised to witness and sign statutory declarations, affidavits, waiver rights, search warrants, drug warrants, divorce documents, and to certify copies of original documents and to witness the signing of power of attorney and guardianship documents, providing the JP is satisfied with the capability of the signatory.
A Special Justice (SJ) is a higher level of justice of the peace in South Australia; they sit casually on the bench of the magistrates' court hearing cases in the petty division.
The South Australian Attorney-General has set up a web site to locate justices of the peace. The majority of metropolitan and many regional Councils (Local Government authorities) have a rotational justice of the peace in residence at nominated times.
In Belgium, the justice of the peace (French: juge de la paix, Dutch: vrederechter) is a law-trained judge who sits the lowest Court of record with original jurisdiction over small claims (less than €1,860) matters of civil, commercial, and family law, including: tenancy and lease disputes, neighborhood disputes (party structures, trespassing, noise pollution), apartment buildings, small deceased estates, alimony, guardianships & adoption, and the commitment of mental patients and oversight of their care. Litigants may opt either for conciliation or trial. Lawyers may act as locum tenens JPs.
In Canada, justices of the peace (justices) play a key role in the administration of justice at the provincial level. Justices are appointed by the lieutenant governors of Canada's provinces, and by the commissioners of Canada's territories, on the advice of their relevant premier or Attorney General.
Canada is a vast country and justices are often the only magistrates in some regions. In the Northwest Territories, justices are regularly assigned to hear federal crimes. However, in more populated provinces justices usually preside over bail hearings and provincial offences courts. When not in a court session, a justice can perform other judicial functions, such as issuing search warrants.
In Ontario, justices perform a wide variety of duties related to criminal and regulatory law, at the federal, provincial and municipal levels. Current information on the role of a justice in Ontario can be found at role of Justices in Ontario. Information on qualifications and selection criteria can be found at Qualifications for Justices in Ontario.
Canada made the first appointment in the then British Empire of a woman as a magistrate, namely Emily Murphy, who was sworn in as a police magistrate in the Women's Court of the City of Edmonton (Alberta) on 19 June 1916.
In Hong Kong, the historical functions of justices of the peace have been replaced by full-time, legally qualified magistrates. Nowadays, justices of the peace are essentially titles of honour given by the Government to community leaders, and to certain officials while they are in their terms of offices. They have no judicial functions, and their main duties include visiting prisons, institutions for young offenders and drug addicts, psychiatric hospitals, remand homes, places of refuge, reception and detention centres, administering statutory declarations, and serving as members of advisory panels.
Justices of the peace existed in Ireland prior to 1922, sitting in a bench under the supervision of resident magistrates at petty sessions to try minor offences summarily, and with a county court judge (in his capacity of chairman of quarter sessions) and jury to try more serious offences at quarter sessions. In the Irish Free State the position was effectively abolished by the District Justices (Temporary Provisions) Act 1923 and permanently abolished by the Courts of Justice Act 1924. Their judicial powers were replaced by full-time, legally qualified district justices (now called district judges) and their quasi-judicial powers by lay Peace Commissioners. Peace commissioners may sign statutory declarations and affidavits, and may issue search warrants to the Garda Síochána (Irish police).
A justice of the peace (JP), according to the Ministry of Justice, is a person of unquestionable integrity who seeks to promote and protect the rights of the individual and helps to provide justice to persons in a particular community. Additionally, the JP serves as a justice in petty court sessions, attends juvenile court sessions, issues summonses, considers applications for bail, explains and signs legal documents, sits on licensing panels, and gives counsel/advice. Any Jamaican citizen that can speak and write English is eligible to become a JP. Any club/organisation/citizen can recommend someone to become JP for a community. JPs are chosen under the Governor-General's discretion.
In Malaysia, justices of the peace have largely been replaced in magistrates' courts by legally qualified (first-class) stipendiary magistrates. However, state governments continue to appoint justices of the peace as honours. In 2004, some associations of justices of the peace pressed the federal government to allow justices of the peace to sit as second-class magistrates in order to reduce the backlog of cases in the courts.
They also have certain powers to issue search warrants, and (in conjunction with another justice of the peace) may try minor criminal trials in the district court and exercise powers to remand defendants in custody, grant bail, and adjourn court hearings. They are nominated for office by local Members of Parliament.
Sections 22, 22-A and 22-B of the Code of Criminal Procedure Code, 1898 provide for the appointment of justices of the peace by the provincial governments, their powers and duties respectively. However, seldom are justices of the peace appointed in Pakistan outside the judiciary. Session and additional session judges act as ex-officio justices of the peace as per Section 25 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898.
It is pertinent to note however, as many academics have pointed out, that there is great utility in the appointment of such justices especially in rural areas where enmity between rival groups can lead to the inability of registration of cognisable offences and biased judicial proceedings.
A justice of the peace in Singapore derives his powers from statute law. He is appointed by the President of the Republic of Singapore, under the provisions of section 11(l) of the Subordinate Courts Act (Cap.321). The President may revoke the appointment of any justice of the peace. A newly appointed justice of the peace is required by section 17 of the Subordinate Courts Act, to take the oath of office and allegiance as set out in the schedule to the Subordinate Courts Act, before exercising the functions of his office.
In their role, JPs serve as visiting justices of Singapore prisons, mediators or referees in the subordinate courts. They may also solemnise marriages in the Registry of Marriages or perform the duties of the magistrate conferred on them by any written law.
Justice of the peace (JP) is an honorary post, with authorization to witness and sign statutory declarations and affidavits. JPs are chosen under the Minister of Justice's discretion. Any citizen of Sri Lanka can apply to the Ministry of Justice giving his or her credentials to be appointed as a justice of the peace. However, the applicant should be one who has served the public and carries out social service and should be of good standing. The President of Sri Lanka and his/her officers are ex officio justices of the peace. A justice of the peace can be appointed as an unofficial magistrate.
|This article is part of the series: Courts of England and Wales|
|Law of England and Wales|
A magistrates' court in England and Wales is composed of a bench of (usually three) JPs or magistrates, who dispense summary justice: that is they decide on offences which carry up to six months in prison, to a maximum of one year of imprisonment over not less than two indictable offences. They are advised on points of law and procedure by a legally qualified justices' clerk and their assistants. No formal qualifications are required but magistrates need intelligence, common sense, integrity and the capacity to act fairly. Membership is widely spread throughout the local area and drawn from all walks of life. All magistrates are carefully trained before sitting and continue to receive training throughout their service. Magistrates are unpaid volunteers but they may receive allowances to cover travelling expenses and subsistence. Lay justices or magistrates must sit for a minimum of 26 sessions (half-days) per year, but some sit as much as a day a week, or possibly more.
In addition to the lay justices, there are a small number of district judges, formerly known as stipendiary magistrates. These are legally qualified, full-time members of the magistracy and hear cases alone, without any other magistrates on the bench. It is important to distinguish the district judge (magistrates' court) from the district judges who usually sit in the county court.
Magistrates' courts today can deal with minor offences (fines of up to £5,000, and, or imprisonment of up to six months for a single offence or 12 months for consecutive sentences and handle over 95% of the criminal cases in England and Wales and Northern Ireland. With more serious offences, magistrates are responsible for indictment and committal to the Crown Court (a task in former times dealt with by a grand jury). Magistrates also have a civil jurisdiction, such as a family jurisdiction. Although they had a licensing jurisdiction dealing liquor, betting and clubs licensing applications, this was transferred under the Licensing Act 2003 to local authorities. The magistrates now act in licensing matters only as an appeal court from the decisions of the local authority.
Cardiff Magistrates' Court is the only court in the country which deals with offences under the Companies Act, such as for late filing of accounts or directors' offences. Westminster Magistrates' Court has special responsibilities for dealing with all terrorism and extradition offences throughout the UK.
Until the Courts Act 2003 came into force, magistrates were tied to a particular area (see magistrates' courts committee, commission area, petty sessions area). This has now been changed such that they are assigned to local justice areas, but less strongly.
The Courts Act provides the current framework for appointment of the justices, which is done by the Lord Chancellor in the name of Her Majesty. Justices can also be removed by the same mechanism. District judges (magistrates' court) – previously known as stipendiary magistrates – must have a seven years' general legal qualification, and are appointed by Her Majesty on the advice of the Lord Chancellor.
Before 1714, magistrates were liable to be approached at any time and in any place by people legally recognised as paupers, appealing for aid if parish authorities refused to provide any. It was relatively common for these magistrates to write out, on the spot, an order requiring aid to be granted.
Within the Scottish legal system justices of the peace are lay magistrates who currently sit in the justice of the peace courts. These courts were introduced in 2009 as a replacement for the district courts (established in 1975), which in turn replaced burgh police courts. Justices sit alone or in threes with a qualified legal assessor as convener or clerk of court. They handle many cases of breaches of the peace, drunkenness, minor assaults, petty theft, and offences under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982. By 2011 the system of district courts had been entirely replaced by justice of the peace courts.
In Glasgow, the volume of business requires the employment of three solicitors as "stipendiary magistrates" who sit in place of the lay justices. The stipendiary magistrates' court has the same sentencing power as the summary sheriff court. However, in 2006, the Scottish Government announced its intention to unify the management of the sheriff and district courts in Scotland, but retaining lay justices, as part of its initiative to create a unified judiciary under the Lord President; the justice of the peace courts were implemented on a sheriffdom-by-sheriffdom basis.
In Northern Ireland, the situation initially continued as it had in pre-1922 Ireland. However, justices of the peace no longer sat out of petty sessions after 1935 (Summary Jurisdiction and Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1935). Since then, magistrates' courts in Northern Ireland have consisted of legally qualified resident magistrates (now known as district judges (magistrates' courts)) sitting alone, except in cases involving children, where two lay panelists sat with the magistrate. Justices of the peace were confined to the power to conduct committal hearings, bind persons over to the peace, sign warrants, summons, and other official documents. They were appointed by the Lord Chancellor on the recommendation of a committee in each county court division.
The Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002 introduced a new office of lay magistrate, to sit alongside resident magistrates at magistrates' courts in certain matters. Unlike in England and Wales, "lay magistrate" is the official title of the position, to distinguish from existing justices of the peace who do not sit in the magistrates' courts. The first lay magistrates were appointed in 2005. Two lay magistrates sit with the district judge (magistrates' court) in criminal proceedings involving children (replacing the former lay panelists) and Family Proceedings Court matters. The district judge (magistrates' court), who is a barrister or solicitor of at least seven years standing, presides over the bench. Most criminal justice functions of JPs were transferred to lay magistrates. It is expected that there will be no further appointments of justices of the peace in Northern Ireland, although those already appointed retain the title and any functions not transferred to lay magistrate under the 2002 Act.
In some US states, the justice of the peace is a judge of a court of limited jurisdiction, a magistrate, or a quasi-judicial official with certain statutory or common law magisterial powers. Some states have special qualifications or unique features for the office.
The justice of the peace typically presides over a court that hears misdemeanor cases, traffic violations, and other petty criminal infractions. The justice of the peace may also have authority over cases involving small debts, landlord and tenant disputes, or other small claims court proceedings. Proceedings before justices of the peace are often faster and less formal than the proceedings in other courts. In some jurisdictions a party convicted or found liable before a justice of the peace may have the right to a trial de novo before the judge of a higher court rather than an appeal strictly considered.
A justice of the peace also performs civil marriages.
A justice of the peace has the same jurisdiction as a municipal magistrate with respect to traffic and misdemeanor cases and restraining orders. Additionally, the Justice Court hears civil lawsuits up to a limit of $10,000, small claims cases up to $2,500, and issues evictions, called writs of restitution (after a forcible detainer or special detainer action (eviction) being successfully completed by a landlord). Justices of the peace, also called JPs, or Judges of the Justice Court, are elected in partisan elections for four-year terms from specific districts called precincts. They have the same authority and responsibility as all other judges in the state with respect to performing marriages, administrating oaths, adhering to the code of judicial conduct, and all aspects of justice administration. However, Arizona law does not require justices of the peace to be lawyers. Many justices of the peace are not legally trained, although all are required by the Arizona Supreme Court to complete a course at the Arizona Judicial College. As with JPs, municipal judges in Arizona are not required to be lawyers.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (April 2013)|
In Arkansas, a justice of the peace is an elected official equivalent to a county commissioner or county supervisor in some other states. Arkansas JPs sit on a county quorum court, composed of 9, 11, 13 or 15 JPs. The quorum court is a part-time body, elected from single-member districts, that has overall responsibility for county affairs. Among their responsibilities are passing the budget, creating new ordinances (at the misdemeanor level), setting property tax millage levels, and working with other elected officials. The full-time elected county administrator, who presides over the quorum court, is the county judge. Neither JPs nor the county judge have any judicial authority, though they do have the power to preside over civil marriages. Justices of the peace are elected every two years to these partisan offices.
Justices of the peace in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are often called on to perform marriages and, especially, same-sex marriages which certain religious officials are not willing to oversee. Justices of the peace in Connecticut can preside over same-sex marriages. Unlike Massachusetts, Connecticut JPs are not penalized for refusing to perform such ceremonies.
Justices of the peace in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont have the same general oath-giving powers as a notary public.
Justice courts are courts in New York State that handle traffic tickets, criminal matters, small claims and local code violations such as zoning. Though justice courts constitutionally are part of the New York State Unified Court System, state law generally makes justice courts independent of New York's Office of Court Administration (OCA) and instead makes Justice Courts the responsibility of their sponsoring localities. Town justice courts are often called Town Court, and village justice courts are often called Village Court. City courts in New York State handle mostly the same types of cases but are not justice courts.
The official title for judges in Justice Courts is Justice, the same as in New York Supreme Court. However, in common usage, most people, including lawyers, call them Judge. Justices in Justice Court do not have to be lawyers. The vast majority are not. Many of these courts are in small towns and villages where none of the residents are lawyers. In the larger towns, the justices are almost always lawyers.
While Justices and their court clerks receive training from OCA, there is tremendous variability in how cases are handled. This includes court procedures and substantive results. Some courts will dismiss a traffic ticket if the officer does not appear for a trial, while others will adjourn the matter to give the officer another chance. In some courts the police prosecute their own tickets, while in others an Assistant District Attorney from the county or a town or village attorney will prosecute the tickets. This may even vary by the type of officer, with State Troopers and Deputies prosecuting their tickets and a town attorney prosecuting tickets written by the town police.
Larger towns can have very busy caseloads, including several sessions a week with dozens of cases at each session, and people may have to wait hours before their cases are heard. In some small towns the caseload is extremely light, and a court might meet once a month and have only a few cases.
All criminal prosecutions that occur in towns and villages are commenced in a justice court. Misdemeanors are handled exclusively in the justice court, while felonies generally move up to County Court before the case moves forward.
Similar matters in some places outside New York are handled by a justice of the peace.
New Hampshire justices of the peace are commissioned magisterial officers, appointed by the Governor and Executive Council to terms of five years, with the power to administer oaths, acknowledge instruments, perform marriage ceremonies and, effective January 1, 2008, solemnize civil unions for same-sex couples. They may also order compulsory mental examinations for good cause, act as a magisterial official regarding enforcement complaints on orders for isolation or quarantine issued by the Commissioner of Health and Human Services, administer oaths of office to public officials, take depositions and issue subpoenas. New Hampshire justices of the peace are also authorized, upon a showing of probable cause supported by affidavit, to issue arrest warrants, search warrants, administrative inspection warrants and by court appointment, to fix and receive bail in criminal cases.
In Texas, JP's are elected on a partisan ballot every four years.
Texas does not require a JP to be an attorney in good standing. However, JP's are required to be "well versed in the law" and take mandatory classes to retain their office. New JP's are required to take 80 hours of legal state mandated classes the first year, and 20 hours each year thereafter during their tenure in office.
Sections 18 and 19 of Article V of the Texas Constitution, as well as Chapters 27 and 28 of the Texas Government Code, outline the duties of these Courts and their officers.
Under Section 18, the number of JP's (and associated constables) is dependent on the size of the county:
Section 19 sets forth the minimum jurisdiction of the JP court:
JP cases are appealed to the county court level; the appeal results in a trial de novo. In criminal cases, cases beginning in justice court cannot be appealed beyond the county level court unless the fine is more than $100 or a constitutional matter is asserted.
In smaller counties without a coroner, the JP has the duty to perform inquests.
A JP in a large precinct in a large county will work 5 days a week, 8 or more hours daily. Their duties will include, but are not necessarily limited to the following: Trials of civil matters, both to a 6 person jury and to the bench, with an amount in controversy not exceeding $10,000.00. Trials of criminal matters involving traffic violations and class C misdemeanors punishable by fine only. Pre-trial motion dockets and show cause hearings are held, and all discovery must be approved by the Judge in advance in civil cases. All criminal matters are controlled by the rules of criminal procedure and evidence. A much more restricted and smaller set of rules apply in civil matters unless in the Judges discretion, it is believed to be in the best interests of justice to apply the standard rules of evidence and procedure. The court has the exclusive jurisdiction of evictions. A Texas JP Judge will also magistrate prisoners and set bail. The Judge will hear juvenile violations such as truancy, and underage drinking and smoking. Warrants of Arrest, Alias, Search and Capias Profine are issued. Protective Orders can issue and result in jail time if violated. Several administrative matters are heard including the finding of a Dangerous Dog, Occupational Drivers License and tow hearings. Many writs are issued such as writs of re-entry to apartments, possession of realty and to reinstate utilities a landlord may have turned off. A JP has contempt power of $100 and up to 3 days in jail per occurrence. And of course, a JP will perform matrimonial services.
In many states, the office of justice of the peace has been abolished or transferred to another court, such as the magistrate court. In larger cities, cases may be heard in a municipal court which has jurisdiction only within that city. Most efforts to abolish the office of justice of the peace have been led by the American Bar Association, which views non-lawyer judges as no longer necessary, as there are now far more persons with formal legal education than in the past when justices of the peace were first used.
California formerly had justice of the peace courts staffed by lay judges, but began phasing them out after a landmark 1974 decision in which the Supreme Court of California unanimously held that it was a violation of federal due process (under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution) to allow a non-lawyer to preside over a criminal trial which could result in incarceration of the defendant. The court specifically recognized that in the aftermath of Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), it made no sense to allow a case to be tried before a layperson incapable of understanding the legal arguments of the attorney to whom the defendant was entitled under Gideon. The remaining justice courts (as well as municipal courts) were eliminated by the passage of Proposition 220 in June 1998, which merged all lower courts within the state judicial branch into the superior courts (the courts of general jurisdiction). Under current Californian law, all California judges must be licensed attorneys.
Notably, the Supreme Court of the United States sharply disagreed with California's analysis of the Fourteenth Amendment in the landmark case of North v. Russell, 427 U.S. 328 (1976), in which the court held that Kentucky's use of nonlawyer judges in its police courts was not a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees of due process and equal protection of the laws.