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 the 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.

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.