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What is a Justice of the Peace?

By Cassie L. Damewood
Updated Feb 16, 2024
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A justice of the peace is a government official who is generally only authorized to preside over low-level judicial proceedings such as traffic violations, shoplifting offenses or permit and license violations. His or her duties and job restrictions vary significantly depending on the region and country in which he or she works. He or she may work as a full-time or part-time employee, and the position may be one that is elected or appointed.

Typical responsibilities of a justice of the peace include witnessing or notarizing signatures and oaths on legal forms and documents; he or she also may issue warrants, subpoenas or other court documents required by attorneys and judges. The scope of duties sometimes gives this person the power to arrest minor law offenders who have infractions related to the good or safety of the public as well. In some areas, he or she is sanctioned to preside over misdemeanor trials or act as the judge in small claims court procedures.

In the United States (U.S.), a justice of the peace job is typically associated with performing civil union and marriage ceremonies, for which he or she is commonly authorized in most states. This person is typically certified to legally join couples in civil services at any location or to serve as a bona fide witness if necessary. Lawfully joining couples is frequently considered this official's most performed job.

Many other countries have governments that include justice of the peace positions whose duties differ considerably. In Wales and England, for example, crimes that have maximum jail terms of less than six months as penalties are tried in a magistrate’s court and presided over by three such justices. Asia and India’s justice of the peace positions are considered mainly for show, as they do not invoke any power or influence in legal matters. In Australia, this person is chosen based mainly on his or her reputation for being a respected community member. The duties are normally confined to authenticating documents and signing proclamations and legal statements.

The prerequisites for becoming a justice of the peace are frequently as varied as the job duties. Many regions and countries have no educational or work experience requirements to apply for the job. Some areas require applicants to have a juris doctorate degree as well as professional experience as a lawyer or a judge. Most positions in this category demand a background free of felony convictions. In the majority of jurisdictions, the position has term limit restrictions.

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Discussion Comments

By mabeT — On Jul 02, 2011

I’m sure you might have heard of a justice of the peace ceremony before. I don’t think that they are near as common today as they used to be, but around here we still here of people just going to the courthouse to get married.

And you know what; I’ve got to say that if I had the whole wedding extravaganza to do all over again, I might just do it that way the next time. After almost a decade of marriage, I definitely do not look back on that day as the best of my life. I actually think of it as one of the most stressful.

Had I known then what I know now, we would have both got dolled up and headed straight to a justice of the peace then went on a wonderful honeymoon!

By blackDagger — On Jul 02, 2011

I’m only thirty one, but I am a huge fan of the old Andy Griffith show. One of my favorite things about it was that Andy, the lead character, was pretty much the humble head honcho of everything in tiny Mayberry.

This included not only sheriff, but also justice of the peace. There were many hilarious story lines that revolved around him marrying some of the mountain folk off and others feuding over it. Absolutely hilarious stuff, and clean to watch if you have kids.

Anyway, it is because of that show that I even know what a justice of the peace is!

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