Have you ever thought about where and how Justices of the Peace originated? As Justices of the Peace, we descended from a colourful and illustrious past. We were previously known as ‘Keepers of the Peace’ from Richard the Lion Heart in the 13th century. We were given public backing with the signing of the Magna Carta in 1214, when certain implications were imposed on King John by the barons at Runnymede, which guaranteed: ‘No free man could be outlawed or exiled except by the lawful judgement of his peers.’
We were first designated ‘Justices of the Peace’ by Edward III in 1327 and, in a way, became the King’s spies – the eyes and ears of the counties and shires.
For the next 200–300 years, JPs were representatives of the monarch in the counties and shires of England. They were appointed by the Privy Council and later by the Lord Lieutenants to oversee and control sheriffs and rogue barons.
Justices were all-powerful… they carried arms, provided recruits for the army and navy, raised taxes for toll roads and bridges, controlled liquor licences, were responsible for the poor, and acted as policemen, judges, and jailers.
All of these roles through the period of the Tudors, the Wars of the Roses, the Great Plague, the Fire of London, and playing a major role in the Papist Plot which pitched the Church of England against the Church of Rome (the ‘Killing of Justice Godfrey’).
New Zealand’s first Justice was Thomas Kendall, who stepped ashore in the Bay of Islands on 14 June 1814. Thomas Kendall was appointed by the New South Wales Governor, Macquarie, to bring British Justice to the crime-troubled colony of New Zealand. Born in 1778 in Lincolnshire, England, the son of a farmer, young Kendall moved while still a teenager to become an assistant schoolmaster and private tutor in Immingham where he met his future wife Jane Quickfall. They married in 1803. Kendall, on being appointed, quickly found that he had no real power to determine guilt and punishment, so Hongi Hika was given an official authorisation to assist early Justices of the Peace in carrying out their duties.
It was not until May 1841, after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, additional appointments were made by Governor Hobson: 27 Magistrates of the Territory of New Zealand. A number of these Magistrates were appointed for the whole of New Zealand, while others were appointed for individual provinces. They mainly carried out judicial roles. Today, we have over 6,000 Justices of the Peace for New Zealand, and their roles have changed considerably.