A Justice of the Peace makes decisions which have a direct impact on the accused who are appearing in court. The decisions also have an impact on the victims, witnesses and the wider community. If a case goes to trial, the Justice of the Peace must decide whether to find the accused guilty or not. In addition, if a Justice of the Peace finds an offender guilty (or if the offender has already pled guilty) the Justice of the Peace is responsible for deciding what sentence to impose. In some parts of the country Justices of the Peace sit in benches of three - however in most areas they sit on their own.
Do Justices of the Peace need legal training?
Justices of the Peace do not need special legal training in order to arrive at their decisions. They are ordinary members of the community who use their own judgement and common sense to assess the facts in relation to each case which comes before them, and to come to a view about the guilt or innocence of the accused, and the correct sentence which should be imposed. The main personal qualities needed for this task are a capacity for fairness; sound judgement; good communication skills and an ability to manage their own behaviour and workload appropriately in court.
A Justice of the Peace always sits with a qualified legal adviser. This means that if a legal issue arises during court proceedings, expert legal advice is always available. In addition, Justices of the Peace receive extensive training prior to first sitting in court, and after they have been appointed.
Do Justices of the Peace have any duties outside of court?
In addition to their duties in court, Justices of the Peace may be approached to sign certain documents outside court. These can range from search warrants - where a Justice must take a view on whether police should be allowed to enter somebody else's property - to emergency orders under environmental health legislation.