Justices of the Peace and reform

During the early decades of the 20th century the Justices of the Peace (JPs), who were part-time and untrained, came under increasing criticism as being amateurish and often unsuited for the task of dispensing justice.

Royal Commission

A Royal Commission on JPs, chaired by Lord DuParcq, reported in 1948. Though it strongly defended the position of the JP within the judicial system, it recognised that the administration of magistrates' courts needed to be modernised.

The Commission recommended that they should also be staffed by barristers acting as full-time clerks who could advise JPs in aspects of their work. Parliament implemented these and other recommendations in its Justices of the Peace Act of 1949.

Turning-point

The Act was a major turning-point in professionalising the role of JPs and in widening the range of summary and minor business conducted in the magistrates' courts. Later legislation made provision for JPs to receive training and instruction.

Legal aid

Greater access to the courts and to legal processes such as divorce, was made possible from 1949 when Parliament passed the Legal Aid and Advice Act.

This measure was a response to many years of pressure from lawyers and social workers who campaigned for a system of financial assistance to people unable to meet the costs of legal services.

Related information

Historic Hansard

The House of Commons debates the Second Reading of the Justices of the Peace Bill

The House of Lords considers the Committee Stage of the Legal Aid and Advice Bill

Did you know?

In 1919 Parliament passed the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, which allowed women to be created JPs, act as members of juries, and train as solicitors and barristers. Within thirty years, nearly a quarter of JPs were women.