Justice of the Peace (JP) is a Judicial Officer of a lower court, elected or appointed by means of a commission (letters patent) to keep the Peace. In past centuries the term commissioner of the Peace was often used with the same meaning.
Depending on the Jurisdiction, such Justices dispense summary Justice or merely deal with local administrative applications in common law jurisdiction. Justices of the Peace are appointed or elected from the citizens of the jurisdiction which they serve and are (or were) usually not required to have any formal legal education in order to qualify for the office. Some jurisdictions have varying forms of training for JPs.
Office of the Justice of Peace is an unpaid office, undertaken voluntarily and sometimes more for the sake of renown or to confirm the Justice’s standing within the community, the Justice was typically a member of the gentry. In special circumstances, a Justice of the Peace can be the highest government representative.
It is Queen Elizabeth II who gave away the first ever JP Post to a Sri Lankan in the departing year of the British rule in 1948.
In Sri Lanka, Justice of the Peace (JP) is an honorary post, with authorization to witness and sign statutory declarations and affidavits. Persons appointed as a Justice of the Peace may use the post nominal JP. Current appointments are made under the judicature Act No.02 of 1978, by the Minister of Justice at his/her discretion by publishing a list in the Gazette and appointee taking oaths before a High Court, District Court Judge or Magistrate with the registrar of the Supreme Court recording it. Any citizen of Sri Lanka can apply to the Ministry of Justice giving his/her credentials to be appointed as a Justice of the Peace. However the applicant should be one who has served the public and carries out social services and should be of good standing. The President of Sri Lanka and his/her offices are ex- officio Justices of the Peace, who is an Attorney at Law can be appointed as an unofficial magistrate.
The post was introduced in the British Colonial Era, during which time appointments were made by the Governor until 1938, after which appointments were made by legal secretary until 1947. After Ceylon gained independence in 1948, appointments were made by the Governor General and the Minister of Justice. Justice of the Peace had the power to administer oaths and affirmations as per the Court Ordinance No.1 on 1889 Section 84 and they could formally appoint members of the public to act as Special Police Officers in time of turmoil and riots.
All who hold this honorary post are expected to be vigilant about the document they certify and the recommendations they make and the affidavits they endorse. Moreover, JPs are not supposed to demand any fee for their services. It is also counted from JPs that they conduct an unblemished lifestyle as best as possible steering away from controversial issues in their respective region. Their popularity among people would have made them very effective mediators and peace makers had they hurled themselves among people whenever spark of disunity appears among them. JPs should be impartial and should place the national interest on the top of their list putting aside personal, lingual, communal material and ethnic inclinations.
Do not the two words ‘Justice’ and ‘Peace’ that adore the designated name of their own post inspire them enough to stand up for the preservation of those vital requisites of the country? The Government too should broaden the jurisdiction of service of the JPs enabling them to ‘Better Serve the Nation.”
Lion Ignatious Camillus JP (WL)
President ( 2016 – 2018 )
Association of Justices of the Peace of Sri Lanka