Reference code(s): GB 0074 ACC/1209
Held at: London Metropolitan Archives
Title: MAGISTRATES' HANDBOOK
Level of description: Collection
Extent: 0.01 linear metres
Name of creator(s): Unknown
The origins of the Justices of the Peace lie in the temporary appointments of 'conservators' or 'keepers' of the peace made at various times of unrest between the late twelfth century and the fourteenth century. In 1361 the 'Custodis Pacis' were merged with the Justices of Labourers, and given the title Justices of the Peace and a commission.
The Commission of the Peace gave them the power to try offences in their courts of Quarter Sessions which manorial courts were not able to be deal with (misdemeanours), but which were less serious than those which went to the Assize Judges (felonies). It appointed them to conserve the peace (within a stated area) and to enquire on the oaths of "good and lawfull men" into "all manner of poisonings, enchantments, forestallings, disturbances, abuses of weights and measures" and many other things, and to "chastise and punish" anyone who had offended against laws made in order to keep the peace.
Gradually the justices took over the work of the sheriff in the county. During the sixteenth century their powers and duties increased, as the Tudor monarchs found them a cheap and effective way of enforcing their will across the country. Likewise, the new middle classes saw the post as a means to gain local prestige and influence (despite the arduous and costly duties) and there was regular pressure 'from below' to increase numbers in the Commission. Consequently, at this time, the numbers on the commission rose from an average of 8 to around 30 to 40 by the middle of the sixteenth century. Not until the mid-nineteenth century did the post lose its desirability and numbers begin to drop off.
It was a system that recognised local social structures - the natural wish to regulate local law and order, and men wanting to be judged by other local men. The justices have often, aptly, been described as 'the rulers of the county', and the crown had to be careful to choose men whose standing would not turn them into faction leaders. Equally, the justices' unpaid status ensured that the crown could not take advantage of them and act despotically, and they retained some local independence. Justices needed to be of sufficient local status to exercise authority in a judicial and administrative capacity, and to supervise the parish officials who did so much of the actual law enforcement. Men were therefore appointed from the ranks of the local gentry, most without legal training. To some extent their unpaid status excluded men from the lower orders who had to work and earn a wage.
As early as 1439 a statute introduced a property qualification for each prospective justice. Many names on the commission were purely honorific, not all of those listed had to attend every court, and in practice only a minority did so. Only those named as being of the quorum (who possessed knowledge of the law) had to appear.
Scope and content/abstract:
Handwritten volume comprising a handbook for new Justices of the Peace, including information on the appointment, general duties, powers and jurisdiction of Justices; felonies, punishments and pardons; poor laws; laws regarding highways, bridges and county rates; game laws; and appendices on various legal aspects of the work of the Justice. Dated to 1794.
ACCESS AND USE
Language/scripts of material: English
System of arrangement:
Conditions governing access:
Available for general access.
Conditions governing reproduction:
Copyright to these records rests with the Corporation of London.
Please see online catalogues at: http://search.lma.gov.uk/opac_lma/index.htm
At one time in the library of Henry Ellison.
Immediate source of acquisition:
Deposited in June 1973.
Records of the Justices for the Peace of Middlesex and Westminster can be found at MJP and WJP.
Rules or conventions: Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.
Date(s) of descriptions: November 2009 to February 2010