In the fourteenth century, a system of peace officers was introduced into England to enforce the King's peace. (Any offence against the peace was considered to be an offence against the King himself and was therefore treated severely.)
In the reign of Henry the Third there were citizens with the title of custodes pacis, that is "keepers of the peace", who had administrative and semi-military functions in maintaining the King's peace throughout the land.
There were travelling judges to deal with offenders, but in 1327 King Edward III, by way of legislation, introduced the 'peace officer', to deal with minor offences and thus allow the judges the time to deal with the more serious offences.
By 1361 these peace officers were allowed to use the title' Justice', and so, over the years, became known as "Justices of the Peace" combining the two notions of "Justice" and "peace officer". Edward the Third in 1361 passed a law requiring them to meet at least four times a year to make sure that more important offences were brought to trial. Out of this requirement came the term "Quarter Sessions".
The Tudor monarchs in the sixteenth century established the first real system of English local government and to do this, they made use of the already established system of Justices of the Peace. They placed most of the responsibility for administering the English parishes upon the local Justices, who were made responsible for the upkeep of highways, the imposition of local rates, the licensing of ale houses, and the administration of the Poor Law.
The role evolved gradually and spread to the colonies as the British Empire expanded. In 1788 Governor Arthur Phillip of the new colony at Sydney Cove was also a Justice of the Peace and had the power to appoint judges and Justices of the Peace.
On 1 January 1901, following a proclamation by Queen Victoria, New South Wales ceased to be a self-governing colony and became a state of the Commonwealth of Australia
Most of the Justices Associations in Australia were formed between 1898 & 1918. By 1913, three Associations had been formed. These were the NSW Justices Association (1911), The Honorary Justices Association of Victoria (1909) and The Justices Association Inc. (South Australia - 1898). An interstate conference of these three states was held in Melbourne on 18th April 1914, the NSW delegates were Mr Henry Charles Brierley (subsequently NSWJA President), Dr Alfred Burne & Mr John Kays. Many topics discussed at the inaugural and subsequent meetings and are still subject of ongoing discussion. This body is now called the Federal Council of Justices' of Australia.
Today appointments are made from a wider section of the community. Justices of the Peace are respected citizens who are entrusted by their community to take on special responsibilities. By dealing with routine matters, they have allowed lawyers and the courts to concentrate on cases that require professional legal training.
As the years passed, so did the responsibilities of the JP. In recent years, with the onset of more complex and intricate legislation, the Justice of the Peace's role has been taken over partly by the appointment of professionally qualified magistrates. This has not diminished the importance of the Justice of the Peace in today's society. In fact, recent legislation in the Oaths act is imposing more responsibility upon the Justice of the Peace to ensure that the objectives of legislation are carried out properly.
The Association celebrated its centenary in 2011.