Justice of the Peace
A Justice of the Peace (JP) is a magistrate appointed by a commission to keep the peace, dispense summary justice and deal with local administrative applications in common law jurisdictions. Justices of the Peace are appointed from the citizens of the jurisidiction in which they serve, and are (or were) usually not required to have a formal legal education in order to qualify for the office.
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In 1195, Richard I ("the Lionheart") of England commissioned certain knights to preserve the peace in unruly areas. They were responsible to the King for ensuring that the law was upheld, and preserved the "King's Peace," and were known as Keepers of the Peace.
The title "Justices of the Peace" derives from 1361, in the reign of King Edward III. An Act of 1327 had referred to "good and lawful men" to be appointed in every county in the land to "guard the Peace." The "peace" to be guarded is the "King's Peace" or (currently) Queen's peace, the maintenance of which is the duty of the Crown under the Royal Prerogative. Justices of the Peace still use the power conferred or re-conferred on them in 1361 to bind over unruly persons "to be of good behaviour." The bind over is not a punishment, but a preventive measure, intended to ensure that people thought likely to offend will not do so.
Until the introduction of elected county councils in the 19th Century, J.P.s, in Quarter Sessions, also administered the county at a local level. They fixed wages, built and controlled roads and bridges, and undertook to provide and supervise locally those services mandated by the Crown and Parliament for the welfare of the county.
Being an unpaid office, undertaken more for the sake of renown and to confirm the justice's standing within the community, the justice was typically a member of the gentry. The justice of the peace conducted arraignments in all criminal cases, and tried misdemeanours and infractions of local ordinances and bylaws. Towns and boroughs with enough burdensome judicial business that could not find volunteers for the unpaid role of justice of the peace had to petition the Crown for authority to hire a paid stipendiary magistrate.
England and Wales
Justices of the Peace today remain the bedrock of the magistracy. Summary justice is dispensed by a bench of (usually three) J.P.s, who are advised on points of law by a legally-qualified clerk. In many towns there are also stipendiary magistrates (a.k.a. "stipes"), now known as District Judges (Magistrates' Courts).
Magistrates' courts today can deal with minor offences (fines of up to £5,000 and imprisonment of up to six months) and handle over 95% of the criminal cases in the UK. With more serious offences, magistrates are responsible for indictment and committal to the Crown Court (a task in former times dealt with by a grand jury). Magistrates also deal with minor civil matters, such as licensing applications, although these functions may be removed from them under changes to the licensing laws currently proposed by the Government. See also magistrate's court.
A Justice of the Peace in most Australian states is someone of good stature in the community who is authorized to witness and sign Statutory Declarations and Affidavits.
In the state of Queensland, a "Justice of the Peace (Qualified)" has the additional powers to issue search warrants, and (in conjunction with another Justice of the Peace (Qualified)) constitute a Magistrates Court and exercise powers to remand defendants in custody, grant bail, and adjourn court hearings.
Interestingly, a great number of pharmacists are Justices of the Peace, which is useful in certain situations.
In Hong Kong, Justices of the Peace are essentially titles of honour given by the Government to community leaders, and to certain officials while they are in their terms of offices. They have no judicial functions, and their main duties include visiting prisons,  and administering statutory declarations.
In Malaysia, Justices of the Peace have largely been replaced in magistrates' courts by legally-qualified (first-class) stipendiary magistrates. However, state governments continue to appoint Justices of the Peace as honours. In 2004 some associations of Justices of the Peace pressed the federal government to allow Justices of the Peace to sit as second-class magistrates in order to reduce the backlog of cases in the courts.
The justice of the peace typically presides over a court that hears misdemeanor cases and other small cases of police infractions. The justice of the peace may also have authority over cases involving small debts, landlord and tenant disputes, or other small claims court proceedings. Proceedings before the Justice of the Peace are often faster and less formal than the proceedings in other courts. In some jurisdictions a party convicted or found liable before the Justice of the Peace may have the right to a trial de novo before the judge of a higher court rather than an appeal strictly considered. At least in popular fiction, the Justice of the Peace is the judge to whom parties seeking a quick and informal civil marriage can repair.
In many states the office of Justice of the Peace has been abolished or transferred to another court, such as the magistrate court.