History of Justices of Peace in WA
When Captain James Stirling settled the colony of Western Australia in 1829, he appointed eight Justices of the Peace originally referred to as ‘Conservators of the Peace’ to “inquire into the truth of felonies, poisonings, enchantments, sorceries, act-magic, trespasses, forestalling, regrating, ingrossings and extortions whatsoever”.
Captain Stirling gave Justices of the Peace the same powers as their UK counterparts, who have helped uphold Westminster law since 1361.
Western Australia’s first Justices of the Peace were required to carry out a wide range of duties generally termed as ‘administrative.’ Prior to establishment of a Police Force such duties included such things as organising searches for lost children, reporting on movements of Aborigines and establishing the whereabouts of absconding seamen. They were also required to determine minor civil disputes between ‘master and servant’.
Until 1852, Western Australian Justices of the Peace, like those in the UK, were also expected to oversee local police operations and constables were required to ‘wait upon’ Justices. Administration of constables prior to enactment of the first WA Police Act also fell to Stipendiary Magistrates who were always sworn in similar to that for Justices of the Peace. Additionally, they acted as an agent for the Government in passing official instructions to settlers. Stipendiary Magistrates supervised the work of Justices of the Peace in their districts and presided over the majority of non-capital criminal trials. The District Court Act of 1970 separated the court jurisdiction over on-capital offences further.
Our Association began as the Justices Association of Western Australia. Its first meeting was held in the Justices Room of the Police Court on Monday 20th June 1916 with 29 Justices in attendance. The annual subscription was set at £1-1-0, and the first General Meeting was called for 14th September 1916.
Mr. Good was the first President and oversaw the Incorporation of the Association in March 1917. A Registrar (Mr H Casper) was also appointed and served in that role for 35 years, followed by his son who took on the role for the next 25 years. Such long periods of service are almost unimaginable today but show the importance of a Registrar to the association.
The first General Meeting of the incorporated association was held in February 1917. Of the 1500 Justices of the Peace in the State at that time, 241 were members of the Association but by the next Annual General Meeting in February 1918, membership had almost doubled. (It currently represents almost half of Western Australia’s active JPs.) On 1st April 1963, Queen Elizbeth II granted the association its Royal Patent and it became the Royal Association of Justices of WA (Inc), often abbreviated to RAJWA.
Although Australian women had been able to vote since 1902, the first appointments of female Justices of the Peace in Western Australia were not made until June 1920. Some Members of Parliament of the day were clearly uncomfortable with these appointments, and in 1925 it was decided that a separate Association was necessary for women. The Women Justices Association of Western Australia (Inc) was subsequently formed in June 1925 in order to address and become actively involved in current social and justice issues within the community, as an extension of their duties as Justices of the Peace.
Members were aware that opposition existed to giving women full recognition in some areas of service. In a speech Mrs. MacDonald stated: “Our belief is that the walls of prejudice must fall before the onslaught of earnest, competent women, exercising their right to a voice on key issues, demand, not by favour, but by ability, their right to full Citizenship of the State, with a share in its responsibilities as well as its privileges for public service.”
Over subsequent years membership of the Women Justices Association of WA grew, and requests for submissions on various topics of social interest were made including;
• Married Women’s Protection Act
• Aboriginal Women in Prison
• Amendments to the Bail Act
• Retirement Villages in Western Australia
• Medical Treatment for Minors
• Inquiry into Violence on TV
• Human Reproduction Technology Bill
• Frozen Embryos
• Pangea Nuclear Waste
Membership flourished through the years and in June 2000, a 75th Anniversary celebration was held over a long weekend.
Members were active on all rosters for signing centres and court rosters, and in November 2008, the decision was made to close the Women’s Justices Association of WA. The walls of prejudice had successfully been breached, and all women Justices of the Peace are now taking their rightful place alongside male counterparts, in all aspects of our work.
The Women Justices’ Association was dissolved in August 2008. Many of its founders and ongoing members were also members of RAJWA.
Today, Magistrates come under the direction of the Chief Magistrate. Whilst the role of the magistrate has changed significantly over the years, the relationship for Justices of the Peace has diminished to some degree today and judicial duties fall within the Magistrates Court Act 2004 (WA) wherein JPs now only perform bench duties under authority directed by the Chief Magistrate.
The Justice of the Peace Act 2004 (WA) provides for appointment of Justices of the Peace for Western Australia. JPs today have powers that are specifically provided in Western Australian statutes, which are relevant to the execution or administration of purposes of such legislation.
RAJWA has remained a resource for JPs since its earliest days. As an association of volunteers who are a critical element of the Western Australian legal system and give their time unselfishly to the public and to our justice system, it represents not only an important means for JPs to be kept updated on factors that might affect their work, but a way for them to meet other Justices of the Peace, socialise, share knowledge and above all enjoy peer recognition for this important work.