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What is the role of a justice of the peace?

There is often confusion over the role of the justice of the peace. Is a justice of the peace a judge? If not, what is a justice of the peace and why can they preside over some court cases?

The office of the justice of the peace has its roots in England. In Canada it was adopted through the 1763 royal proclamation that stated English law was to be imposed upon all territories that then constituted Canada. After Confederation, the British North America Act was created and in s. 92(14) the provinces were given the authority to appoint and set qualifications for justices of the peace.

A justice of the peace is not a judge, but rather a judicial officer who is appointed by their respective province through established legislation. Each province has either a justices of the peace act or the duties are outlined in other similar acts.

Accordingly, it’s the individual provinces that set out the cases that the justices of the peace have the authority to hear. Most of the provinces and territories have similar rules when it comes to justices of the peace.

As a result of the office of the justice of the peace being created through provincial statute, they preside mostly over provincial cases and hold administrative positions. Depending on the provincial or territorial legislation, justices of the peace can also hear small claims cases, be case managers for trial scheduling and non-adjudicative court appearances work in court registries and can also preside over municipal matters.

If a justice of the peace is performing court functions, they can usually perform duties relating to criminal case matters. Those can include: issuing warrants, presiding over certain type of trials, conducting arraignments, and bail hearings.

If a justice of the peace has a more administrative function, they can usually perform a civil wedding, issue a summons, subpoena, administer an oath or swear an affidavit.

Depending on provincial or territorial statues, justices of the peace are required to have a law degree for certain functions.

Read more:

Justice of the Peace Nova Scotia

Justices of the Peace British Columbia