Justice of the Peace is the immediate person who comes to mind in the event there is a need for any document to be officially certified. The post of Justice of the Peace is an honorary title in Sri Lanka assigned to respectable personalities in recognition of their valuable service to the country. It is imperative to study the history as to how this responsible title came into effect.
The history of this reputable title Justice of the Peace goes as far back as 12th century. It was in 1195 this post of Justice of the Peace was created by Richard I in England widely became known as King’s Peace. In 1327 it was introduced as a noble and legal post and later changed as Guard of Peace.
The Justice of the Peace was privileged to be present at the Court hearings chaired by the King in spite of its honorary status. Eventually in 1361 this post was decided to be introduced as Justice of the Peace during the rule of Edward III and has been consistently in use to date.
This position was upgraded in 1361 with powers equal to that of the magistrate. Later this position was categorised under Urban Law in terms of the Commonwealth Act.
Presently, Australia , Canada , Hong Kong, South Africa ,India, Belgium, Ireland, Jamaica, New Zealand, Singapore, USA operate the Justice of the Peace system and powers of the Justice of Peace vary from country to country.
The British Empire systematically introduced the position of Justice of the Peace in its colonies with the intent of enactment of the English judicial procedure in a bid to attract the cooperation of the local society for expansion of their administrative powers.
The strategy of the British colonial masters for a smooth transition from Dutch administration to British governance was the appointment of selected leaders of the country as the Justice of the Peace by a percentage rate in the first instance.
Alexander of Russia II introduced the Justice of the Peace to Russia under the Legal Reforms Act in 1864. This was mainly due to the influence of British system. However, this system was abolished in early the 1900s with the establishment of the Communist Soviet Union.
In certain countries it is believed that reputable personalities appointed as Justices of the Peace have been invested with judiciary powers to ease the heavy load of court hearings. Still the Justice of Peace posts are operated in some provinces of Australia, Ireland, Belgium Wales and Scotland with certain judiciary powers.
The awarding of Justice of the Peace in Sri Lanka was commenced during the regime of Governor Sir Fredrick North in 1801 and this post was awarded to the people of the elite society of Sri Lanka with a hidden objective to get the high society support to administrate the country smoothly.
At the initial level the presentation was done through the churches.
In 1871, the power of the Justice of Peace was reformed. Today there are more than 100,000 Justices of the Peace in Sri Lanka who carry out their volunteer service to society.
The appointment of Justice of the Peace by the British rulers was to muster the support of the society for a peaceful administration convenient to the public in resolving their social issues with a spirit of mutual understanding and compromise. The Minister of Justice has already taken the initiative steps on the appointment intelligent persons of the area as Justices of the Peace in the Northern and Eastern Provinces in a bid to maintain peace and order in the region.
Justice of the Peace has become highly popular among the public for official certification of affidavits and documentation, an extraordinary service free of charge. The society extends its high regard to the Justice of the Peace for their remarkable contribution of service rendered to the public at the moment of need. Some Justices of the Peace are legally authorised for all island service and some are limited to particular district only.
The National Congress of Justice of Peace proposed by the Secretary of the Ministry of Justice President Counsellor Suhada Gamalath will be established in near future with the objective of meeting the entire Justice of the Peace community at one union and promoting their welfare in recognition of a commendable service. The administration of Justice of the Peace will continue to function in the interest of the general public for many more years.
(The writer is a Media Consultant to the Ministry of Justice.)