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Peace of mind

Be nice to that market trader – he could be your JP, warns Jeannie Mackie

9 May 2011

Don’t pack away the bunting quite yet – there is still more to celebrate, although sadly without another public holiday to do it in. This year is the 650th anniversary of the office of Justice of the Peace, whose powers to control behaviour dated from 1361 when Edward III gave them the power to bind over ‘unruly persons’ to keep the peace and be of good behaviour. That power, a prophylactic measure then and now, is the genetic ancestor of ASBOS, SOPOs and all the other acronyms devised to deter future mischief being made.

The 1361 Act which gave that power also directed that justices should meet to conduct local business four times a year – the origin of Quarter Sessions and Assizes, a system which survived until 1972 when Crown Courts replaced them.

It is somewhat astonishing to realise that we have only had Crown Courts for 40 years, and have had unpaid magistrates dealing with the bulk of all criminal law for nearly 700 years. It was not only rogues, vagab...

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