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.
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.
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.
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.