Justices of the Peace (long)
Posted by Captain Everett on August 24, 1998 at 21:30:08:
In response to Magistrates, written by John W on August 22, 1998 at 17:18:29
What follows will largely repeat what has already been said (and I apologise for any reduncancy), but might be of some help. The best source I have on this subject is ╔lie HalÚvy's A History of the English People in 1815. HalÚvy was a Frenchman who had great fascination for English institutions and customs, and wrote a volume dedicated to the subject in 1912-13. He use the terms "justice of the peace" and "magistrate" interchangeably.
Much of what he says agrees with what has been written above, and I will The landlords were very much the true rulers of the English provinces. It was from them, by long established custom, that the justices of the peace were chosen. They provided both judicial and adminstrative functions. Their numbers were indeterminate and varied with each county. Their duties were established under a series of statutes.
In some cases they operated individually. In other instances, the law demanded the cooperation of at least two magistrates. They were required to meet at regular instances at specified places; at these they were assisted by a clerk. There were three kinds of meetings: Special Sessions, Petty Sessions and Quarter Sessions. Quarter sessions, as the name implies, met every three months in solomn state; all the magistrates of the county were expected to attend.
The justices were unpaid - their functions regarded as an honour. No expert legal knowledge was required, the judgement of common sense seems to have been constidered sufficient. At one time, professional judges did assist them, but the practise had fallen into disuse, without any protest.
Their primary duties were judicial. For many petty offences they had the right to pass immmediate sentance, sitting alone or in pairs, or refered to Quarter Sessions. They also had adminstrative functions. They set paish rates, the rate for the upkeep or roads and bridges, and the poor and couty rates. As English "Common Law" is case-made, the magistrates were able to build up precendents which expanded their obligations. The Quarter Sessions were especially noted for building up a new code of law under the pretext of interpreting the old. HalÚvy notes that they were thus uniting executive, legislative and judical functions in direct opposition to the classic doctrine of the seperation of powers. Yet he regards this type of law as a most original and charcteristically English. (In essence, it works.)
The system originated under the reign of Edward III in the 14th Century. He introduced a system of direct nomination by the Crown, and gave the magistrates the authority to try felons. These men had the power to appoint the parish constable (who was charged with police of the district), and other local officials. The magistrates were required to be a resident of the county, and own land there bringing in a net annual income of at least ú100.
HalÚvy argues that one needs to examine the spirit of the law, and how it was applied in practice. During the late 18th Century, the system had been largely decentralized. The law had also increased the number of cases triable by Quarter Sessions as the court of final instance. Legally, a magistrate could be removed, but in practice was almost irremovable. There still were some crown nominees, but most were chosen upon the recommendation of the Lord-Lieutenant of the County, who was by custom the largest land owner in the county. This was considered to be coincident with the good society of the district. For one of the nouveaux riches to be admitted to the ranks of the magistrates, or to perform the wearisome and costly duties of High Sherriff was a greatly coveted honour.
Composition of the Bench varied with time and place. After the Protestant revival of the 18th Century, the Anglican clergy were no longer ineligable to serve. The entry of financiers and manufactures varied with the county. For example, in Lancashire the newly rich cotton-spinners were debarred, but in the south-west the more establish leaders in the woolen industry were admitted. In the south financiers and bankers could find their way to the Bench.
I have some additional information touching on the subject, with particular emphasis on the situation in London, which I can provide if requesed.
I remain, etc.
- Thanks, Captain Everett! If you feel like it sometime... SuzanneR 22:31:06 8/24/98 (0)
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