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When Captain James Stirling founded the colony of Western Australia in 1829, he appointed eight Justices of the Peace originally referred to as ‘Conservators of the Peace’ to “inquire into the truth of felonies, poisonings, enchantments, sorceries, act-magic, trespasses, forestallings, regratings, ingrossing’s and extortions whatsoever”.

Captain Stirling gave the Western Australian Justices of the Peace the same powers as their UK counterparts, who have helped uphold the law under the Justices of the Peace Act since 1361. It is this important Act that gives the Justice of the Peace powers to try offenders without a jury and formed the basis of the WA court of Petty Sessions.

Western Australia’s first Justices of the Peace were also required to carry out a wide range of duties labelled as ‘administrative’ these included the organizing searches for lost children, reporting on movements of Aborigines and establishing the whereabouts of absconding seamen. They were also required to trial civil disputes between ‘master and servant’.

Until 1852, Justices of the Peace in Western Australia, like those in the UK, were also expected to control the local police; with constables required to ‘wait upon Justices’ and exercise their warrants.

The control of constables also fell on the shoulders of Stipendiary Magistrates who were always sworn in as ‘Justices of the Peace’ and acted as agents of the Government in passing official instructions to settlers.

Stipendiary Magistrates supervised the work of other Justices of the Peace in their districts and presided over non-capital criminal trials, a practice that continued is come parts of WA until the District Court Act of 1970

Today Magistrates remain the senior Justices under the control of a Chief Magistrate. But whilst the role of the magistrate has changed significantly over the years, their relationship with Justices of the Peace today remains as it was at the foundation of the colony.

 

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