The Ins and Outs Of Being a Justice of the Peace

In 2014 Justices of the Peace in New Zealand celebrated 200 years of service since the first J.P., Thomas Kendall, arrived in the Bay of Islands. As a further contribution to mark the milestone there was search  of anecdotes recalling the ins and outs of being a J. P. in New Zealand over two centuries, mostly serious stories, but a few to indicate there was also a lighter side to the Office:  


J.P.s as, believe it or not, Military Strategists

In November 1868 Auckland Justices of the Peace watched the deteriorating native troubles in Waikato and, putting aside judicial and ministerial affairs, took on the role of military strategists to formulate their own solution to the conflict. At a closed meeting the J.P.s were bold enough to decide they would advise both the Governor and Commanding Officer to send the 18th Regiment at once to Ngaruawahia and to seek further reinforcements from England.

Governor George Bowen: Auckland JPs gave him military advice.
Alexander Turnbull Library

The New Zealand Herald at first castigated the J.P.s for meeting in private saying “…they were public men who met upon a public matter of very serious import to us all…”, but then went on to agree with the J.P.s’ proposition. “Send these men (the 18th) to Ngaruawahia”, the Herald implored, “…we write as knowing the urgency of the need to defend Waikato”.

Constructive Dismissal

An Auckland Justice of the Peace found there was no way out when, in December 1885, he asked to be excused Judicial duties because of ill-health. “l can continue receiving Statutory Declarations”, he advised the Minister of Justice, Jospeh Tole “but I cannot attend Court”.

Hon Joseph Tole, Minister of Justice, 1984-7.
NZETC Victoria University

The Minister replied “there’s no legal provision for me to exempt any J.P. from the Court roster: I can’t  excuse any JP from duties on the Bench”, which the New Zealand Herald interpreted, and criticised, as constructive dismissal. In an editorial “The Great Unpaid” the newspaper said to force an incapacitated J.P. to resign in these circumstances is “somewhat a hard measure… and that ways should be found to excuse those who cannot endure prolonged sittings on the Bench”.

The J.P. and the “Indecent” Pictures

A Justice of the Peace gave evidence as an expert witness in a celebrated case in Auckland in 1906 when two Karangahape Road art gallery owners were charged with selling indecent pictures… Frederick Leighton’s “The Bath of Psyche” (1879) and Frederick Thumann’s “Psyche at Nature’s Mirror” (1893).

Frederick Leighton’s “The Bath of Psyche” (1879). Google Art Project

For the prosecution, police mustered an array of horrified, shocked and indignant witnesses, members of church groups and social workers who all submitted that viewing the pictures in the shop windows was bad for public morals, particularly young people.

The hearing generated interest in newspapers throughout New Zealand with the over-riding question “When is art indecent?” The defence called a wide variety of experts to say that nothing in the pictures, women – partly-nude figures – could be held indecent: indeed, most said it was the human body in its most natural and finest form.

Frederick Thumann’s “Psyche at Nature’s Mirror” (1893). Wikipedia

These witnesses included a school headmaster, art critics, gallery owners, a journalist, a lawyer… and another introduced as a Justice of the Peace, a married man with several grown-up daughters. “I do not think the pictures are indecent… it would be a good thing if they were exhibited more”. He admitted, however, he would not send such a postcard to a young girl.

Charles Kettle, S.M.
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections AWNS-19190102-40-5

Magistrate Charles Kettle: “Why not?”

“I don’t know. Perhaps I am too old”. (Laughter) “But I have seen ladies painting pictures in the public galleries at Florence which were a good deal worse than these. Why, I have a worse one hanging up in my own drawing-room!”.

After the lengthy hearing Mr Kettle found the gallery owners not guilty. Sensing something of a test case he gave a reserved, fulsome, decision… “There is an entire absence of impure suggestions, nothing lewd, obscene, indecent, scandalous, or lascivious in the attitude and posture, nothing offensive to decency and good morals. The picture is not, to use the words of the statute, ‘intended to have an indecent, immoral, or obscene effect’”

“No Appearance!”

On the 18th January 1882 business at Auckland’s Police Court was held up for more than an hour. The Resident Magistrate was unavoidably absent, hearing matters at Onehunga, so several J.P.s had been arranged to preside at Auckland Court. The New Zealand Herald put it this way ….”The justices who were warned to attend did not put in an appearance, and a Court messenger, as a last resource, was sent out to catch the first J.P. he could find.

James Baber, JP. Saved the day. NZETC Victoria University

After a diligent search, he succeeded in capturing Mr Baber, who came to Court and disposed of the business”.

Nil Return

It’s assumed nearly 140 years later that we can still recall Wednesday, the 23rd of May, 1877. The “New Zealand Herald” said at the time that “it’ll be remembered by future generations as a Red Letter Day in the annals of the Auckland Police Court”. In case, meantime, recall’s a bit blunt, here’s the reason for that rash editorial prediction.

At exactly half past ten Mr Albert Beetham, J.P., took the Bench and the Court Orderly was in place beside the witness box. The JP declared the Court in session and gave the nod to begin. “It’s a clean sheet, your worship” said the Clerk. As the Herald reported “…not a single drunkard had been run in, no unfortunate vagrant arrested, no one had ventured to act in opposition to any city by-laws…”

“Considering the size of the city it is creditable to both police and public” the JP said, “showing that for one day, at least, the city has been in a state of entire peace”. The Clerk of the Court, answering a question from the Bench, said it was exceedingly rare not to have any cases. Without further ado the session was declared concluded.

 Yeah, Right!

In a Press cable from London in July 1910 New Zealand Justices of the Peace learned of a change in procedure in Great Britain. The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Loreburn, announced “that in future the appointment of JPs will be non-political”.

Smoking in Court

In October 1922 a man whom the Auckland Star referred to as “a very old Auckland J.P.” gave his recollections. The unnamed J.P. said the appointment and swearing-in of J. P.s in the early days was carried out before a Supreme Court judge in a public courtroom. “Generally his Honour indulged in a little homily as to the importance of the office,” he says, “thus the ceremony usually made a deep impression on the newly-sworn”.

“Work on the Bench was much more arduous in the old days,” he continued, “and many of the senior justices were kindly-hearted men, who felt they had to do their duty by fining a wrong doer, then, having vindicated the law, they would pay the fine themselves if the offender was hard up and had no money”.

1920s advertisement for pipe tobacco

The old J.P. was speaking soon after Auckland J.P.s’ Association had been formed: “It struck me as being very incongruous at that meeting in the Courthouse – most of the leading men took out their pipes and smoked and discussed various matters with a pipe in one hand. Up went a smoke screen! Such a thing would have been considered out of place in the old days”. (The wheel has turned full circle!)

Where are the Women J.P.s?

In June 1898 a letter to the editor signed “Only a Woman” appeared in Christchurch’s Press newspaper criticising the way Justices of the Peace handled a charge against the bylaws when a cabbie overcharged a passenger. The case was at first dismissed. “There was surprise at this,” the correspondent said, “because that cabman is somewhat notorious for overcharging and the City Inspector said so in Court. Thereupon said Justices reopen the case, and a fine, with costs, was inflicted. I suppose we may presume that the lengthy list of new J.P.s in your to-day’s issue of the newspaper will contain about 90 per cent of men whose mental calibre will enable them to deal out justice on the lines of the cabbie’s case. Now, I am not yet in favour of women as Justices of the Peace, but I do think that if women, who are habitually the victims of the avarice of a goodly few of our licensed cabmen (mind, I write of a few, not as a whole), had been sitting on the Bench their judgment would have been to the mark”.

The Grand Jury and the Lash

In 1925 the Auckland Justices of the Peace Association held a meeting to hear two lively debates: ‘Has the Grand Jury outlived its usefulness?’ and ‘Has the time arrived when flogging should be abolished?’ As might be expected of such a gathering, decision was reserved. One speaker said the Grand Jury was protection against eccentric or biased magistrates and against political interference with the administration of justice. While one view was that there are more humane punishments available other than flogging, another said it was a corrective, deterrent punishment and anyone who stooped to an offence punishable by the lash deserved to suffer.

An MP Wearing 2 Hats!

The story of one Justice of the Peace’s incompetency because of lack of knowledge was told in Wellington in May 1899 by Member of Parliament, John Hutcheson. “The JP was sitting on the Bench for the first time and did not know what was required of him when dealing with a dipsomaniac (one who has an irresistible craving for alcoholic drink). The JP had to be helped by the Clerk of the Court when it came time to decide sentence. The JP afterwards thought he should know the finer points of his responsibilities, so asked for help from the Justice Department. The reply was that the information was in a book published by the Government Printer that could be purchased for 15 shillings!

This, the JP thought, was preposterous and sent in his resignation as a protest against the haphazard way of doing things and not giving Justices an opportunity of making themselves, to some extent at least, fit for their position”.

John Hutcheson, MP.
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collection

At this point the MP, John Hutcheson, revealed that he was the JP concerned. “The Minister suppressed my resignation,” he said, “it has not been gazetted but my action has had one good result.  Every Justice of the Peace is now supplied with a copy of Mr Haselden’s book, “New Zealand Justice of the Peace”, specially compiled for their guidance”.

J.P.s vs the Chief Justice!

Several Wellington J.P.s were among Wellington townsfolk who signed a petition criticising the Chief Justice. In March 1843 William Fox (Inner Temple) appeared before the Chief Justice asking to be admitted to the bar. During the ceremony the Chief Justice asked Mr Fox to swear an Oath that Fox believed was degrading. A grumpy exchange with the bench followed and admittance to the bar was refused. About 70 leading citizens, including 8 J.P.s, immediately petitioned the Chief Justice pointing out the form of Oath being used was without precedent, anywhere, and that it should be altered. His Honour was not moved so Mr Fox concentrated on his journalism and interest in the New Zealand Company, which he led for a time before entering politics.

William Fox who endured a grumpy exchange with the Chief Justice
Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa

Rt Hon Sir William Fox, KCMG, was later 4 times Premier of New Zealand. Foxton is named after him. In retirement he sat as a J.P. in the Auckland Court.

 114 Convictions and not out!

In the late 1880s Sir William became known for his harsh sentencing when he was dealing with those accused of drunkenness. In August 1888 newspapers, under the heading “Magisterial Fads” were saying it was time the Department of Justice took account of Sir William’s “extraordinary conduct… … inflicting the maximum penalties on all offenders against sobriety. It is a most dangerous precedent to establish that a judicial officer is to administer the law for the gratification of his own individual fads, (abstinence), instead of according to the merits of the case before him”.


Undeterred, Sir William carried on his one-man campaign against excessive drinking and 2 years later newspapers were again criticising his courtroom manner. “Where did you get the drink?” was his favourite question to each of the accused, most of whom had bad memories or said they were too drunk at the time to remember. Sir William was looking for information so he could take action against publicans who continue serving patrons already under the influence.

Some Relief

In one session in August 1888 he fined all who came before him the maximum – £1 for first offenders and £3 for re-offenders. All, that is, except one old man. “With 114 convictions you’re a hopeless case,” said Sir William, “and instead of a lengthy prison term it’ll be a fine of £3”.

In late 1888 Sir William answered his critics – “… it is clemency in the cases before me to give the   severest penalty, in the hope of deterring offenders in the future. My private opinion is that no punishment, however severe, ever has or ever will cure a drunkard but when I find myself on the Bench I put away my own opinions as to the inefficiency of punishment of drunkards, and simply carry out the law as I find it… a very foolish law, as I think it…”

Popular Cause

Sir William found he had many followers in the various temperance groups.

In 1890 the Auckland Star printed a Letter to the Editor recalling a recent larceny case, a man who stole a shirt and pleaded guilty before Sir William. “Where did you get the drink?” the J.P. immediately asked. The prisoner stared, dumb, into space until, as the correspondent put it, “it occurred to the good Knight that larceny was not drunkenness and that a man could steal a shirt while perfectly sober!”

Dispensation Sought

In 1891 such was Sir William’s reputation that on one occasion when a lawyer found Sir William was on the Bench he asked, on behalf of his client, for an adjournment to another date. The case involved liquor. This request resulted in an animated scene in the courtroom with Sir William insisting he would hear the matter. The hearing proceeded: the case was dismissed on a technicality.

In the same year the newspaper Observer noted that Queensland had introduced laws forbidding any J.P. who was a member of any temperance organisation, or a publican, to sit on the bench while deciding offences involving intoxication or for licensing matters. Southland had a similar restriction since 1864.

 JPs vs Governor

It wasn’t only the Chief Justice the JPs took on. In August 1849 Wellington JPs unhesitatingly spoke out against the Governor himself, together with townsfolk of the NZ Land Company settlement. They severely criticised Sir George Grey’s “postponement of introducing representative government in New Zealand”.

Sir George Grey: criticised by JPs, NZ Land Company settlers.
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collection

Five JPs led a group of a dozen other leading citizens attacking the Governor Grey’s delays, his lack of candour and good faith, and his “utter untrustworthiness” in his despatches to London. The testy colonists signed and delivered a series of 12 resolutions pointing out the error of Sir George’s ways.  (The wrangle between Wellington colonists, in particular, began in 1839 and continued until 1852 when an Act providing self-government took effect).

Pernicious Pursuits Unchecked

Music, song and dance was commonplace in Auckland licensed public houses in the late 1860s: activities frowned on by churchmen and other upright citizens. “Already a number of unfortunate girls have been deluded by the temptations of these places, and then fallen from bad to worse until at last they have become prostitutes” they said, “ these singing and dancing assemblies have the  most pernicious effect upon the moral character of many of the inhabitants of this city”.

How come so many bars in the town echoed to the bawdy music when it was illegal for publicans to allow singing or dancing in their premises?  The exception was for a special occasion and only after permission had been given by the Bench, usually Justices of the Peace presiding.

14 Justices of the Peace attended Court on 25th May 1868 to consider concerns surrounding the issue of permits and allegations by city fathers of the spread of this bawdy entertainment.

Thames Hotel, corner of Queen and Customs Streets, Auckland: licensed to sell liquor – and for musical evenings. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collection

One of the J.P.s, it turned out, had signed many of these permits. One afternoon he dealt with a sheaf of applications, presented at the conclusion of Court business by a man whom it was said “…is paid half a crown a week to procure these licences”. Under questioning the J.P. concerned said “I signed them all without first reading them – I didn’t know these were applications, I believed the documents to be another matter altogether!”  One disbelieving wit among the J.P.s called out “why, the J.P. believes good music is better than bad rum”.  Another – “the only cause that I have heard against the J.P.’s conduct is that he is an old man and that he should therefore be allowed to get on with his eccentricities”.  A censure motion against the J.P. concerned was not put to the meeting but within weeks it was noted there was a dramatic reduction in the number of approvals for music in Auckland’s public houses.

The Latest Reading, 1864

Varty’s, the bookshop in Canada Buildings, Queen Street, Auckland, boasted the widest selection in their “Catalogue of the latest novelties in literature” advertised in the New Zealand Herald, July 1864. “We also sell games, latest puzzles and most popular volumes of the day”. And to prove it there are columns of book titles advertised, including “Hymns for the Household”, “Hardies Portfolio of Views from Home and Abroad”, Buckle’s “History of Civilisation in England”,  “An Astronomer’s Experiments”, the London “Charivari” and… just what every J.P. should purchase and  keep handy –  Thomas James Arnold’s “Duties of a Justice of the Peace”.

The On-Again, Off-Again J.P.!

Several southern newspapers in early 1870 announced that Edmund Barff, former Member of Parliament, had been made a J.P. But it turned out the announcement was somewhat premature. When, some months later, the Press began enquiring as to when the official communique would be issued, it was revealed that the initial report had been the result of a leak… probably Mr Barff confided in a few close friends about his pending appointment and word got out. The leak prompted complaints about him being a J.P. and there were delays with “process” inside Government despite the Prime Minister’s approval. “It’s reward for Barff’s political services, for such steady support in Westland throughout the parliamentary session,” was how one newspaper saw the proposal. The failure to gazette Barff’s appointment was blamed on “Ministerial difficulties” (perhaps read Ministerial differences, probably between Prime Minister Stafford, Minister John Hall and the Minister of Justice). Other reports, equally prominent at the time, claimed Mr Barff had not sought the position of J.P., had not expected it, nor had agreed to it, so there could not possibly have been differences in Cabinet about his appointment: it was merely a mischievous scandal and Mr Barff had been dragged through the mud in order to gratify the spite of a newspaper against the Government!”

Baptism Under False Pretences! 

The 1934 meeting of the Christchurch Presbytery was advised that a Justice of the Peace had baptised a child in Canterbury back-country. The report stated that the J.P. had been acting under a provision in the law that allowed him to conduct baptisms when no minister of the church was available. The Clerk of the Assembly enquired, but could find no such legal provision.

Damning Criticism of J.P.s

In 1869 there were proposals to tighten Civil Service Estimates. A reduction in the number of Resident Magistrates was suggested as one way to save money. The “Otago Witness” was critical of any cutbacks but then went on to say that in the present climate they were unlikely to go ahead because of widespread dissatisfaction with the Justices of the Peace on the bench.  Resident Magistrates were much preferred.

In scathing criticism in its pages of 12th October, the newspaper quoted recent discussions in the Legislative Council where almost every speaker condemned the administration of justice by J.P.s. The newspaper saw fit to preface quotes from the Hon. Dr James Menzies with the introductory phrase,  “With obvious truth….” and went on to say that “competent and qualified Justices would do their duty more cheerfully and zealously if the Government paid regard to the fitness of those whom it appointed, as regards education, character, and social antecedents”.

Dr James Menzies: wanted a better class of JPs

The Hon. Col. Whitmore concurred, saying “I know others also feel some dissatisfaction with the manner in which the appointments to the Commission of the Peace (J.P.s) are made in this country. Where I come from there are well-grounded complaints on the part of my brother Justices that there are persons on the Bench who neither do their duty nor are fit to do it”.

“Otago Witness” then gave considerable space for the comments of Hon. Henry Sewell.

Henry Sewell – found it difficult to find suitable people to be ideal JPs. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 5-2736F

“All Governments”, he said “including those of which I have been a member, have been influenced in the appointment of J.P.s by considerations other than those which should properly influence a Government in the selection of these officers, occasionally placing on the Bench persons who are not qualified to be there. The difficulties of finding gentlemen who are both suitable to fill the appointment, and ready to sacrifice their time to the somewhat onerous duties, are almost insuperable. It is a mere burlesque upon justice to see it administered by those who are notoriously guilty of the same crime for which they inflict a penalty… this sort of judicial farce is not infrequently enacted in the absence of the Resident Magistrate. It only remains for our courts to be handed over to an unpaid judiciary to see the same outrage upon all decency repeated again and again”.

The “Otago Witness” article concluded in the hope that the civil service costs would not be trimmed at the expense of employment of Resident Magistrates… “no economy could be less justifiable than that which would eventually destroy the respect which should be paid to courts of law”.

J.P. Stands For?

In 1922 there was a challenge in Court about the way a Wanganui J.P. signed a deed. Thomas McDonnell concluded his part of the documentation with the sign-off “Thos. McDonnell, J.P., Wanganui”. The question was whether the sign-off was sufficient. While “J.P., Wanganui” was enough to spell out his residence, it was contended it fell short of stating the J.P.’s position, employment or office.  Chief Justice Sir Robert Stout: “I rule out this contention, I shall assume J.P. stands for Justice of the Peace and this is sufficient identification of the attesting witness: the deed cannot be set aside on this ground”.

Mass Outwits the Force!

Senior Sergeant Rawle, prosecuting in a case in Auckland’s Police Court in October 1921 just had to ask the question: “Why did you knock Inspector Eales down?”

He was questioning Samuel Turkington, a Justice of the Peace, charged before Mr. J. W. Poynton, S.M., with having driven dangerously into Queen Street from Fort Street.

Joseph Poynton, S.M. as sketched for Truth in 1915

“Well, why did you run into the Inspector?”

“I hit him to avoid some other pedestrians,” replied the defendant.

“So that to get one up on the police you deliberately crossed from the left side to the wrong side of the road and ran down the police inspector?”, rejoined the Senior Sergeant with a smile.

Later in the case Inspector Eales gave evidence – “the defendant’s motor-car knocked me down and pushed me along for several yards. It must have been a poor climber not to get up and over me – it certainly tried hard enough, but failed. It was a poor sample of a car”.

“And a good sample of an inspector!” returned lawyer Mr. Dickson, whereupon Joseph Poynton, S.M.  glanced at the Inspector’s sturdy, rotund,  physique… and smiled.

And to the defendant JP he announced – “It’ll be a fine of £5!”

Struck a Nerve

There must have been some very sensitive business documents being witnessed in Napier in 1915 and some local captains of commerce didn’t like J.P.s perusing the papers that they were being asked to sign. Napier’s representative at the Chambers of Commerce Conference told delegates, “This prying is detrimental to the public good. The Minister of Justice has told us perusal is a matter for each J.P.’s discretion”. Most speakers defended Justices of the Peace: the discussion ended abruptly when Feilding’s delegate (a J.P.?) told the gathering, “the law is clear – Justices of the Peace must peruse documents they are called on to sign”.

J.P.’s Glowing Recommendation

This message, syndicated to many newspapers throughout New Zealand in late 1899, appearing as an article and in the Letters to the Editor column.

“Picton, New Zealand, September 18, 1899- “I have much pleasure in recommending Chamberlain’s Cough Remedy. I have used it whenever necessary during the last few years, and have always found it gives immediate relief. It always breaks up a cough or cold, and experience has taught me that to obtain a speedy cure is to commence taking Chamberlain’s Cough Remedy at the very commencement of a cold. I always keep a bottle of it in the house. Yours faithfully,  J. Blizzard,  J.P., Town Clerk”.

Chamberlain’s products, personally recommended by a prominent JP

(Jabez Blizzard was Picton’s Town Clerk for some 37 years from 1897, and a J.P. His endorsement was often followed by the name of the local pharmacy that stocked the fine product, “… price one shilling and sixpence – three shillings for the large bottle”).

 J.P. Accused

In 1897 a Balclutha J.P. was accused of “spiriting away” key witnesses. It was an appropriate way of describing the disappearances because it was a sly-grog case, one of selling alcohol without a licence. When the matter was called in Court the police prosecutor surprised Magistrate Hawkins when he advised “I have no alternative but to withdraw the charges against John McCorley and two family members because the principal witnesses have disappeared. A Justice of the Peace was instrumental in this – the men have been spirited away, gone,” Inspector Pardy told the Court.

Inspector William Pardy: ”a JP was responsible for the missing witnesses”

“Well, Inspector, I hope you don’t allow matters to remain as now, it’s one of the most serious matters of this kind I have ever heard,” said the Magistrate, “I’m going to allow the charges to be withdrawn but I expect follow-up inquiries”. And Pardy was just the officer for the task – he had built up a reputation as a thinking and persistent detective, including the arrest of Te Whiti in the “second siege of Parihaka”.

 A Secret Court

In May 1889 the New Zealand Herald reported on a court hearing which had taken place in Auckland some seven months before. Word about the case was delayed, the Herald said, because proceedings had been held in secret. Two Justices of the Peace presided in the Police Court to decide the case of a young man charged with theft from his employer. The Herald labelled it an extraordinary case because:

+ The hearing was unscheduled, held after usual sittings of the day had concluded

+ It was virtually a private sitting of the Court

+ The JPs who sat were not rostered, but had been urgently invited to sit on the Bench

+ There were no reporters present

+ The proceedings were kept quiet

+ Police acquiesced to the arrangements

The Herald said that the boy’s father had approached two J.P.s mid-afternoon asking them to sit at once, so they went to the Police Court after other proceedings had been completed. With connivance of the willing JPs and several accommodating police officers, there was a hearing.

Police Inspector Broham: “Your Worships, this is a case where a young man has been arrested, but the complainant, Mr. Trafford, does not wish to prosecute”.

J.P.: “What are the circumstances of the case?”

Broham: “This young man has embezzled £1 of Mr. Trafford’s money, and Mr. Trafford does not wish to prosecute”

J.P.: “Mr. Trafford, is that so?”

Trafford: “Yes, if he will make an apology”.

J.P.: “Mr Trafford, we must have no qualifications in this matter. Do you prosecute, or do you not””

Mr. Trafford: “Then, I do not”

Broham: “As Mr. Trafford does not wish to prosecute, we cannot, of course, press the case”

J.P.: “The case is therefore dismissed”

The Herald article continued – “What we wish to direct attention to specially is the extraordinary conduct of the Justices and the police. If a poor lad had been arrested for theft at half-past three o’clock in the afternoon, no Court would have sat for him. He would have had to come up next morning at the ordinary sitting of the Court, and full publicity would have been given to the case. Was the holding of a sitting late in the afternoon, long after the Court had closed, for the purpose of concealing the affair? We venture to say, that if the case had been brought up in a public Court neither the Magistrates nor the police would have dared to act as they did”.

Matters were further compounded if other newspaper reports were correct: that the father of the accused was later blackmailed.

The Minister of Justice ordered an inquiry into the Herald’s allegations.

Struck Off: A Sensation

An Auckland Justice of the Peace was struck off in 1886, the circumstances providing sensational newspaper headlines. William Powell, J.P., kept a chemist’s shop in Hobson Street and was on the roster to regularly sit on the Bench in the Police Court. He befriended a destitute widow receiving charity and it was alleged that he had used his position as a J.P., and his personal influence, for the “purpose of gross oppression”. In other words he was bothering the women seeking sexual relations while she said she was repeatedly repelling his advances. Spurned, Powell wrote fictitious letters to the Benevolent Society, charging the woman with admitting men to her house at all hours of the night. One of the letters he signed as a woman named Morgan, and the other as a man named Thompson. The widow was refused financial assistance for a time, but once she made a statement that Powell, J.P., had made improper proposals to her, enquiries soon discovered the whole unfortunate scenario. The Minister of Justice, Joseph Tole, invited Powell to resign but he declined to do so. After interviewing the J.P. the Minister said “this man is not a proper person to be clothed with the Commission of the Peace” and the next Gazette, December 1886, advised that the Governor-General had removed Powell’s name from the list of Justices of the Peace.

Powell was before the Court in 1892, this time as the accused in the dock, and, again, making newspaper headlines. He was charged with using instruments to procure an abortion. Ironically, Joseph Tole, the Minister who recommended his removal as a J.P., had by this time left politics and become Auckland’s Crown Prosecutor. He led the case against Powell who was found guilty and imprisoned for 10 years.

The “Justiciary”

In 1915 there was a new word to describe Justices of the Peace. Wellington’s Evening Post newspaper used the term “Justiciary” in an article referring to J.P.s generally. Justiciary did not catch on as a collective of J.P.s, though the word survives in the Shorter Oxford Dictionary meaning “administrator of justice”.

Assaulted a J.P.

In Paeroa in 1908 a local man, John Wall, was issued with a summons by the town’s policeman. This immediately excited Wall who set out to deal with the person he thought was responsible for complaining to the police.  Joseph Nathan, the local J.P., had signed the summons, so Wall went to his office in the township and, finding Mr Nathan at his desk, began venting his anger ultimately striking the J.P. with a clenched fist, pushing him off his chair on to the floor. This had a sequel in Court when Wall pleaded guilty to assault, though denied using a clenched fist. “My client is an excitable man”, Wall’s lawyer told the Court “and when he saw the J.P.’s signature he mistakenly thought Mr Nathan had summonsed him”. “I’m glad I didn’t sign the Summons, then” said the Magistrate, “and I take a much more serious view of this, being an assault on a Justice of the Peace in connection with carrying out his duties. Fined £3 and costs £1 one shilling, in default 21 days’ imprisonment”.

An Abusive Drunk

During industrial disputes on the waterfront in 1890, William Barnes, a fireman on the SS Arawa, appeared in the Lyttelton Court charged with assaulting a free labourer. Justice of the Peace, Adam Chalmers, fined Barnes £5. A few days later Barnes spotted the J.P. on Norwich Quay in Lyttelton, and according to police, “went straight for Mr Chalmers, his fist raised in a threatening manner… while using abusive language in regard to the sentence that the J.P. had handed down”.

Barnes denied all knowledge of the offences against Chalmers, saying he was drunk at the time and was now throwing himself on the mercy of the Court.

SS Arawa, left Lyttelton at least one man short.
Te Papa Collections Online

But Mr B. Beetham, Stipendiary Magistrate, told Barnes “there can be no leniency. If Justices of the Peace are to be grossly insulted by men whom they had administered the law to, it will be an end to law and order. Making remarks like this to a man doing his public duty is far worse than abusing a private citizen. I note you are liable to 12 months’ imprisonment. You are sentenced to one month’s jail with hard labour”.

Respected Identity Stripped of Public Office

There was public outcry throughout Taranaki, and beyond, in 1894 when well-known pioneering resident, Major Charles Brown, was removed from both the list of J.P.s and licensed Native Interpreters. Government Ministers said he had signed a declaration by a Maori woman, interpreted to her by Major Brown, that she had received £40, whereas she had only received £20 and, therefore, the declaration was false.

Major C. Brown – public support backed his reinstatement. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collection

Public meetings solidly backed the Major, seeking his re-instatement. Newspaper editorials criticised the Ministers’ actions, saying politics had entered the matter… the Evening Post – “The public can form its own conclusions as to which side truth, honesty, and justice are to be found on”.

The Major’s supporters reminded politicians of the colonist’s record –  twice Superintendent of the Province, twice Colonial Treasurer, four times a member of the House of Representatives, agent for the Government in difficult times and Commander of the Brigade in war time. He founded the daily newspaper, Taranaki News. Brown, they also pointed out, arguably saved the massacre of all 66 crew and passengers of the General Worsley when in 1862 it was wrecked on the Taranaki coast, aground on the shoreline in territory occupied at the time by hostile, warring, Maoris. Against encouragement from his superiors, Brown refused permission for soldiers to intervene in a rescue fearing it would be seen by the natives as provocation with possible retribution too horrid to contemplate. In the end it was the ship’s Captain and others who negotiated with Maori and a peaceful exit was arranged in return for salvaging the ship and its contents: everyone survived.

Now Charles Brown, aged 74, had been stripped of his public offices. Despite widespread sympathy in the community he was not reinstated as a J.P., but went on interpreting in Law Courts. At the end of one such session in September 1901 he was crossing the railway line in Devon Street, New Plymouth, and was struck and killed by the 4pm train to Hawera.

Justices’ Neglect?

JPs in Hokitika took a scolding in the local newspaper, “West Coast Times and Observer”, in April 1896 when their behaviour was labelled “disgraceful” and “indifferent”.  The newspaper said “it is extraordinary, with some half-dozen gentlemen in the town holding Commissions of the Peace (JPs) that, in case of emergency, a Bench cannot be gathered together to transact the business of the Court”.  The Resident Magistrate fell ill and all matters were adjourned a day.

Editorial’s criticism of JPs was possibly mis-directed

“If JPs simply wear the honour, without caring to do any of the work attached,” the newspaper continued, “the sooner they resign the better, and the Ministry would then appoint others in their stead who would be willing to fulfil the duties of the office. Court business should not be postponed for a day because a number of gentlemen, living within a few hundred yards of the Court, are too indifferent to attend when the occasion arises”.

One of the town’s JPs replied to the article saying the Clerk of the Court had adjourned proceedings as he had been directed and that JPs could hardly turn up if they were not advised. The article, the writer maintained, had thus maligned JPs.

The Editor replied saying if the JPs weren’t warned of the magistrate’s illness they should have been. “The unfortunate woman Hardman was dragged up and down on three occasions before her case was decided, whereas common humanity should have directed the disposal of her miserable matter at once”. [Mary Ann Hardman later pleaded guilty in the Supreme Court to a charge of attempted suicide. She was bound over to keep the peace]

“God save the Magi Streets”

In a letter to the editor of the Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, 1 March 1851, correspondent A. Specktatur mockingly gives an eye witness account of a grand dinner in Nelson attended by the Governor.

In a post-script to his letter, A. Specktatur, is some 160 years ahead of the present i-phone “text-speak”… but he does not forget the Bench in his entreaty:

P.S. God save the Kwene, hand Prins Halberd, hand the Prins of Whales, hand the Guvnur, hand the Live Tenant Guvnur. N.B. Hand the Majur, hand the Fishalls, hand the Magi Streets, hand hall the KunStables, …and hall the respectabul marred Peepul, hand there Wives, hand there Suns, hand there Dawturs, hand Owld Tom, hand Yourself…  A. Specktatur.

Loose translation:

God save the Queen and Prince Albert and the Prince of Wales and the governor and

the Lieutenant- Governor. N.B. And the Major and the Officials and the Magistrates and all

the Constables… and all the respectable married people and their wives and their sons,

and their daughters and old Tom and yourself….. A. Spectator

Ruffled Feathers

Frank Bird, a J.P. and a Warden on the West Coast, was removed from the list in September 1890 after suing a local journalist for libel. The Minister of Justice took exception to this and other matters, also claiming Bird was embarrassed financially, and sought the J.P.’s resignation. Bird refused to relinquish any of his public offices so the Governor-General acted. Frank Bird’s letter to the editor was published in the Evening Post on 22 September 1890, seeking compensation and a copy of the full report from the Inquiry into his dismissal. “We sometimes shudder at the treatment of official officers and others in Russia, but, Sir, there is no need to leave New Zealand to find cases of equal injustice” he wrote, “my character has been blackened but I served the Government faithfully, truthfully… … without fear or favour, malice, or ill-will”. He subsequently set up business in Westport as a mining and commission agent.

Judicial Rebuke

J.P.s were admonished by a Supreme Court Judge at Auckland in March 1933 when he was obliged to dismiss charges against two men. In both cases, one from Whangarei, the other from Coromandel, J.P.s and Court Clerks had overlooked vital paper work in Court documents. Mr Justice Smith ruled he had no authority to deal with the men and asked J.P.s and Clerks to be sure in future to complete formalities. “I have no option but to release these men,” His Honour said. They were re-arrested as they left the courtroom.

“Give Judgement – and Shut Up”

That was the advice given to JPs in 1929 by the Minister of Justice, Hon. Thomas Wilford.

”One or two JPs on the bench have made mistakes lately.  I have had representations made to me from different parts of the Dominion regarding palpable, but honest, mistakes and I have given this advice to every JP I have known and met personally:—’Give your judgment, which will probably be right, but don’t make public your reasons for it, which may very often be wrong”.

Truth’s sketch of Hon Thomas (later Sir Thomas) Wilford.
National Library of New Zealand

“Usually I find that a Justice has weighed the evidence correctly and come to the right decision but then has made remarks so controversial that one wonders if he has really came to the right decision or not”.

J.P.s Being Eased Out

There was a special address from the bench after the regular sitting of the Court in Dunedin one Saturday morning in June 1900. The two rostered J.P.s vacated the bench and F. Mallard, J.P., took over to publicise the case of restrictions placed on J.P.s which had reduced their appearances on the Bench. For months J.P.s had been rostered on the less-popular Saturday mornings, but on no other days of the week. Mr Mallard objected, saying if J.P.s were good enough to sit on Saturdays they should also be rostered on other days.  Conversely, Mr Mallard mooted, if they weren’t good enough for weekday duties they ought not be presiding on Saturdays. “We have the right to sit in any Court at any time and I have a letter from the Minister of Justice to this effect. He is unaware of any abrogation of J.P. duties in Dunedin. We have a perfect right to sit here in our own court and adjudicate on all matters except those reserved under the law for (paid) magistrates”.

The Visiting Justice

JPs have for many years been Visiting Justices to hear cases in penal institutions, but in October 1890 Charles La Roche, JP, had the task of hearing charges against 22 Maori arrested after problems in Te Kuiti – a case made famous by intense interest by the Press, resulting in headlines in nation-wide  newspapers for weeks. Followers of the self-claimed prophet, Te Mahuki, had allegedly been on the rampage in the King Country and had been arrested and transported to Auckland. Mr La Roche presided in Mount Eden Gaol’s chapel “in order to save trouble with the transit of defendants”.

The charge of forcible entry (of stores) brought against all 22 was withdrawn, replaced by an allegation of disturbing the peace. Each was charged (and this probably holds the record for the number of words in a charge!) “with consorting with other evil-disposed persons in unlawfully, riotously, and riotously assembling and gathering together to disturb the public peace, and unlawfully, riotously, and tumultuously making a great noise, riot, tumult, and disturbance, to the great terror and disturbance of Her Majesty’s subjects, there being and residing, passing and re-passing, and with further unlawfully, riotously, and tumultuously assaulting two Europeans, and did then there beat, wound, and ill-treat them against the peace of our Lady the Queen, her Crown and dignity”.

A later Supreme Court hearing found all but one of the men guilty and they were sentenced to terms of imprisonment.

Humiliating, distasteful, confounding Hum Bug

JPs were part of the control on the sale of explosives in years gone by… procedure decried by “Somerset” in his letter to the editor of the New Zealand Herald in August 1866.

“I really do think the regulations to be most unmitigated humbug. I go to a most respectable licensed shopkeeper to buy four pounds of blasting powder to blast timber for fencing and I am told that I must fill out a paper. Well, all right, that matter over; but where is the powder? “Uh, you will require to get the permission signed by a Justice of the Peace”. All right, I know plenty, and off I go. But my friend the shopkeeper seizes the moment to remind me that unless I am personally known to Mr. Andrews, of Her Majesty’s Customs, I shall require the signature also of a respectable shopkeeper that knows me, as well as the J.P.

Detonating plunger: but first get permission to buy your blasting powder

But being an old hand, I fortunately know Mr. Adams. This being the case, and having obtained the signature of J. S. Macfarlane, Esq., J. P., (see below for Macfarlane’s background) and paid the Customs one shilling, I was then given a document privileging me to purchase my blasting powder. Sir, unless we get a better system entirely for the management of our own affairs, we shall not only drive away Capitalists, but shall thoroughly disgust the most respectable merchants by the most confounded petty-fogging humbug practised on this community day after day, that is most distasteful and humiliating to any class of men that have any pretentions to intelligence.—l am, &c, Somerset

The JP who Signed the Docket… and Did Much, Much More

It was John Sangster Macfarlane who signed the docket enabling the purchase of explosives. (see above). He was a Scot who made his way via Sydney to New Zealand in 1844, a colourful personality, an early merchant in Auckland, a member of parliament and formerly a sea captain and owner of trading vessels (Henderson and Macfarlane Limited’s The Circular Saw Line). He also owned successful racehorses taking out some of the richest events in the country. He was involved in early Auckland’s rope and soap manufacture and later served as Director on the boards of many burgeoning local companies. He was appointed Justice of the Peace in 1854.  A champion of steam, Macfarlane operated coal-powered ships on the coast and gave Thames goldfields their first railway. He e He was frequently embroiled in litigation: civil, commercial and electoral matters. He countered criticism (he called it libel) in the Auckland Star by starting his own, rival, newspaper, The Echo.  No mercy was shown in the columns of both against each other until November 1875 when The Echo, failing financially, was gobbled by the Star, bought as a going concern. The Star continued publishing it as The Echo, cleverly and gloatingly using its pages for a few days as a platform to boast its victory over the revengeful opposition led by Macfarlane. The Echo was then closed down.

For some years in the early 1870s Macfarlane had been involved with litigation regarding sawmilling and land rights on the Coromandel, with Maori and the Harris families. Macfarlane faced the serious accusation that during these altercations he had incited one sawmill owner to murder another.

In July 1871 Macfarlane wrote to the Colonial Secretary, William Gisborne, resigning as a JP. He had publicly disagreed with the findings made in Court on several personal matters he was party to (not as a JP) and told the Minister his resignation was “to avoid the possibility of being a party to the unfair administration in the Courts here, I beg you will have my name struck off the list of Magistrates…”

The Minister declined to accept the resignation, asking Macfarlane to reconsider.

Macfarlane thanked the Minister for his invitation, took the opportunity to go into much detail of the judgments he felt unjust and said his desire to resign remained. “I feel sure I am acting correctly  in refusing to be a party to the administration or maladministration of justice,” he concluded, “should, however, it be my good fortune to outlive this lamentable state of matters, I may possibly do myself the honour to solicit the Government to restore my name to the Commission of Peace”.

Macfarlane was advised in early September 1871 that his resignation had been accepted.

He died in 1880, as the New Zealand Herald aptly put it “… he has now himself passed away to the final Court of Appeal at the age of 62”.

 Confidences of a J.P.…

…is the heading of an article published in Christchurch’s Press newspaper in November 1900 in which a reporter asks an elderly J.P. to look back over his time serving in rural communities.

What is it like to be a J.P.? Is it difficult, does it take up much time?

“Well, it is supposed to be nice at first. It is believed to be an honour to be able to sign J.P. after your name, and to have the police and other people touching their hats, though, as for constables saluting J.P.s, that custom has fallen into disuse. It isn’t difficult to be a J.P. if you take no trouble… there are so many parts. The law part is heavy, as anyone perusing the manuals and law books can see but with care and perseverance, I think I passed fairly creditably”.

How did you come to be appointed?

“I was asked by the Resident Magistrate to act in repressing the nuisance of drunken labourers in the neighbourhood. After some persuasion I consented, and since then one or two nuisances have disappeared from my locality, and the place is all the better for it. I always tried to get the other Justices with whom I was sitting to impose sentences which were sufficiently stiff, and, if possible, give a little free advice to the defendants. I could see that sound and clear advice often had better effect than excessive penalties”.

Did you ever convict any innocent persons in error?”

“Not that l’m aware of. On one occasion a warrant to arrest an innocent man was signed, and the constable was well on his way to serve it when I stopped it under a suspicion that the information laid for the alleged offence was untruthful. It was recalled in time. There have been other episodes. Some months after I sat on a Bench which sent for trial two men for the same offence, one of whom was the informant. On another matter a warrant was brought to me for correction in which the name of a witness in a case had been substituted for that of the defendant a man alleged to have stolen some pigs. On another occasion a man complained his house had been entered and cash, exactly £70, taken. His statement seemed clear and the police sergeant was keen on the matter, believing it a straight forward case of theft. ‘Well’, I said, ‘go and examine the man’s house, and the box from which the cash was stolen”. The man suddenly became very anxious. I asked him to wait with me while the search was made. The sergeant returned with the exact amount of the cash found in the place as described by the informer. I gave him a talking-to and frightened him with a threat to confiscate his £70 and left matters lie”.

Talking of lying… how do you handle those who don’t tell the truth in Court?

“The greatest trouble in Court is caused by lying witnesses, and if I could have had it my way such persons should only be allowed to make a statement for what it is worth compared with the rest of the evidence. It would assist Justices and Magistrates immensely if they were to tell a lying witness to stand down, and refuse to allow him or her to be sworn again. The perjurer may begin evidence without realising its effect, but if not detected by the Bench many a poor innocent person would be sent to languish in gaol”.

And setting fines?

“The adjustment of fines is rather a difficult matter. Sometimes the fines appear erratic, due to there being a large maximum penalty fixed which to some Justices looks smaller than it does to others. Except in extreme cases of wilful mischief, injury to the public services, etc., the fines should hold some relation to a man’s earnings. But it is, and will be, ever a matter of difficulty to arrange an exact scale of fines.

Where have you ministered?

“On one occasion I held Court in the porch of a chapel, and one or two inquests were heard out on the grass where the accommodation of the dwelling was not suitable, the jury at one of these standing to attention while I occupied a soap box for a seat, and a rough bush table served to write the depositions on”.

And the most unusual?

“It was left to me on one occasion to sign a summons to myself in my own Court, and take down my own evidence in the case for reference!”

Opposition to J.P.s

In 1933 the Minister of Justice, John George Cobbe, caused controversy in Auckland when he announced that Justices of the Peace would be used more frequently on the bench in Magistrate’s Courts. The Auckland Star, 9th June 1933, said the proposal was condemned by many in the justice system. “It’s fraught with dangerous complications” said former magistrate and J.P., E. C. Blomfield, ”there’ll inevitably be a stream of appeals against their decisions, complicating the work of the Courts rather than assisting it”.

Hon John Cobbe “JPs will be used more often on the Bench”.
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collection

President of the Auckland Law Society, A. M. Goulding, said, “It must be remembered that magistrates nowadays have very extensive jurisdiction, and it would be a retrograde step to entrust the important matters that come before them to Justices of the Peace”. Mr Alan Moody, an Auckland solicitor with a long association with the work of the Magistrate’s Courts in the city told the Auckland Star, “…to allow justice to be administered by inexperienced and incapable laymen instead of those who have been compelled to undergo a proper legal training is nothing short of a foolish proposition. My experience is that appointment as a J.P. is generally in the nature of a political reward without consideration as to aptitude for the post”.

Auckland’s First Service Desk?

The Auckland Justices of the Peace Association struggled to set up a public desk in the early 1930s.  Justice Department officials repeatedly knocked back each approach, saying there was no space available in the Court buildings. Determined to provide “essential public services”, the Association took a 6 month tenancy of offices in British Chambers, adjacent to the Courthouse. Some 50 J.P.s offered their services and a roster was drawn up giving certainty of two J.P.s in attendance, for two hours each day, Monday to Friday, beginning the first week of February, 1934. “The hours can be extended if needs be,” the Association said, “and we feel certain that this public-spirited venture only needs to be known to be appreciated by the public”. It was, however, not valued nor used by the public and it was closed. (The idea obviously needed time to mature: 80 years later there are more than 50 Service Desks across Auckland, some overtaxed meeting the public demand).

J.P.s – “The Great Unpaid and Unafraid”

The newspaper Bay of Plenty Beacon, in August 1934, decided to put matters to right when it reprinted an article from the New Zealand Justices’ Quarterly.  “Some people in New Zealand are of the opinion that Justices of the Peace receive a fee for their services. This is quite erroneous. The position does not carry an honorarium – it is purely an honorary one. If a citizen offered payment for services and it was accepted by a Justice, and this fact was made known to the Minister of Justice, the name of the offending one would he immediately removed from the list of J.P.s. To put it in plain English” the article continued, “the pleasure of serving their fellow citizens – this is a Justice’s treasured reward. We are the ‘great unpaid and unafraid’, as a wise scribe once named us”.

Penalty for Non-Attendance

A Justice of the Peace failing to attend to sit on the Bench when rostered was obviously treated seriously in Wellington in the 1880s. Captain Arthur Hume, Inspector of Prisons, was twice warned to attend court but did not.

Captain Hume… removed from the list of JPs

Under legislation this meant the Captain automatically ceased to hold the Commission of Peace, the first person in Wellington to be removed from the list for this reason, ineligible for re-appointment for one year. The law was clear; the Governor must act unless Captain Hume had a good reason for his absence.

Can’t Wear Two Hats  #1

Seventeen informations laid by the Borough Council Ranger in Stratford Court in July 1907 did not get very far when it was discovered the presiding JP was also a Borough Councillor  – a conflict of interest. The JP was disqualified from adjudicating: the charges were dismissed.

Can’t Wear Two Hats  #2

A case of illicit use of a garden hose, contrary to a by-law, was thrown out when it came before the Ashburton Magistrate’s Court in 1939. The Borough Inspector had arranged for a Justice of the Peace to sign the summonses. But the Magistrate spotted the fact that the J.P. was also an elected Borough Councillor. “The summonses are illegal…” he ruled “…as the J.P. is a member of the body which benefits from the penalties imposed”. It was said to be only the second time that these circumstances had arisen in New Zealand.

 Self Doubts

A Dargaville JP put out a cry for help from the bench in 1937. He was sitting with another JP and they’d heard evidence against a Whangarei man who pleaded not guilty to traffic offences.

“This is not a case that Justices of the Peace should be asked to hear,” remarked one of the JPs, “it should come before a magistrate who is a trained man and able to give judgement. I have no intention of sitting on a similar case again because I think a magistrate should try such a case”.

The charges were dismissed.

 JPs as Peace Officers

In 1936 Taranaki Justices of the Peace sought clarification of their powers after the local Registrar advised JPs that they had the authority – and responsibility – to break up a fracas, affray or fight. Mr J. A. Valentine said JPs could, and ought to, act when violence broke out in any public place… “you are bound to use your best endeavours to prevent any affray which takes place in your presence”.  He mentioned this “because in some districts there’s not a policeman for miles, take for example the story of a JP who was called from his home to suppress trouble in a local hall”. President of the Taranaki JP Association and Magistrate, W. H. Woodward, told a meeting of JPs that, as peace officers, they had the right to call in others to help stop a fracas.  Having been informed of their role in such matters, members thought this JP’s duty should be made more public.

 One (or two) Too Many!

Wellington J.P., Mr J.H. Wallace, was confronted with a curious scene when he was asked to hold Court in the cells at the police station in February 1882. Walter King had been charged with being drunk and disorderly in a public place. He was in no condition to appear in the Police Court, hence Mr Wallace was asked to visit the cells in the police station where King was confined. Police had arrested him in a drunken state and he became very violent in the lock-up. A doctor, called after King’s alarming behaviour, diagnosed delirium tremens. King later stripped naked and, taking each garment, shredded them to small pieces. He then amused himself by dancing a kind of jig over the fragments scattered in his cell. This was the scene confronting Mr Wallace, J.P. who decided King would be remanded for a week. A police blanket provided modesty as constables, with some difficulty, got the prisoner out of the cell, into a cab and off to the jail. King had been in trouble before… also the result of over-indulgence. On one occasion he rode a horse recklessly at speed along Lambton Quay, up and down, threatening the safety of townsfolk until a mounted trooper could intercept the horse and the drunken rider. Another time an intoxicated King had spent time sobering-up in the lunatic asylum before being released.

JPs Get the Message…

Sir Frederick Chapman addressing a meeting of the Auckland Justices of the Peace Association in August, 1926 told JPs “your office should not be treated solely as an honour from the Government, but as an honour with a burden. Great importance had always been attached to the office of all those who had anything to do with the administration of justice. The first duty of a justice is to  absorb the idea that it’s a functionary office of the highest importance and that JPs are sworn to administer justice in the right way”. (Sir Frederick was the first New Zealand-born Supreme Court Judge).

 And again…

From an editorial in the Evening Post, September 1930: “The main purpose of the Commission of the Peace in New Zealand to-day is not to bestow honour, but to commission a body of men and women who are trustworthy and capable of undertaking the duties of Justices, and who can make it convenient to perform, those duties . Nowadays the accessibility of the proposed Justice is of importance. If he cannot be found when he is wanted or cannot be disturbed, it is little use appointing him.

 Women Eligible

The law was changed in 1925 to allow women to be Justices of the Peace. The first were appointed on 20 December 1926. The 18 were: Blanche E. Carnachan, Onehunga; Annie J. Corliss, Wellington; Nora S. Dick, Dunedin; Nellie A. Ferner, Auckland; Annie J. Fraer, Christchurch ; Janet Fraser, Wellington ; Annie E. Herbert, Christchurch; Sarah E. Jackson, Auckland; Cybele E. Kirk, Wellington; Edith F. C. Leech, Dunedin; Elizabeth R. McCombs, Sumner; Annie McVicar, Wellington; Hilda M. Northcroft, Auckland; Mary Raymond, Timaru; Eulalie E. Roberts, Dunedin; Eveline A. M. Roberts, Christchurch; Jane E. Runciman, Dunedin; Elizabeth B. Taylor, Christchurch.

In 1933 Elizabeth McCombs, JP, was elected New Zealand’s first woman MP, the member for Lyttelton.

Mrs Rewa Bennett, of Parnell in Auckland, but of Northern Ngapuhi descent, was the first Maori woman to be appointed a Justice of the Peace in February 1932. Prior to her appointment she had been regularly sitting on the bench in the Children’s Court hearing cases involving Maori and was prominent in welfare organisations.

Pardon Me?

“In Pari Delicto” writing to the editor of the New Zealand Herald in November 1928, claimed that the method of appointing Justices of the Peace was all wrong. “The first one hears is usually a telegram from the Minister asking if you will accept the appointment: and of course, nine out of ten do. Then the taking of the oath before a stipendiary magistrate – and, hey, presto…you are a fully-fledged justice!” The correspondent pointed out it wasn’t only a matter of competence. “I was sitting some time ago with a senior justice who was presiding, and we decided to withdraw to talk over the case in the magistrate’s room. When we had sat down the presiding justice asked me what I thought of the case, as, being deaf, he had hardly caught a word of it!”

MP helps JP

On the night of 7th May 1910 a man, Bethel Prinn Manhire, was fetched into Christchurch Police Station, charged with drunkenness and his name entered into the charge-book. Early next morning he was bailed, signed appropriate documentation and was released. Later that morning a local Member of Parliament, Thomas Davey, met with Inspector Robert Gillies to intervene – to make an arrangement so that the defendant’s name would not be called in court.

Manhire  was a J.P., a former Mayor of Sydenham.

A compliant  Inspector Gillies instructed the station Sergeant to alter the documentation. The Sergeant, under protest, changed the name in the charge book to James Brown and the page recording Manhire’s bail bond was torn out and destroyed. A fresh bond was entered in the name of James Brown. Commissioner of Police, F. Wandegrave, investigated newspaper reports about the episode and found the scenario was true. Inspector Gillies was put on 3 months’ sick leave and a similar period of leave of absence with his retirement slated for early 1911 after 36 years’ service. Despite public petitions, Cabinet confirmed the “retiring” arrangement.

The MP Thomas Davey made a confession in Parliament – “… a matter of a misguided politician out to help a pal, a mistake of the heart and not of the hand…” – and was forgiven, though newspapers of the day said he ought to resign.

The Annual Licensing Round

One of the JP’s duties in earlier times was to grant licences for the sale of liquor in public houses.

In April 1853 six JPs had to consider whether to renew all the existing licences and then examine applications for new licences. The Resident Magistrate, giving the message, reminded the court that the convention was that all the present licences would be renewed provided there “were no well-founded charges against them”.

This immediately brought up the complaint about the Wheat Sheaf in Queen Street, kept by Mr. Frederick Sims, a former Colour Serjeant in the 58th Regiment. He must have been a very convivial host to his brothers-in-arms, or perhaps off-side with senior military personnel, because a letter was read from the Adjutant of the 58th Regiment addressed to the Bench by command of Lieutenant Colonel Wynyard. The Adjutant told JPs that “a riot of a disreputable description had recently occurred at the Wheat Sheaf, and that the men of the 58th Regiment are now forbidden to frequent it. I am asking the Bench to co-operate with Lieutenant Colonel Wynyard in putting a stop to such scenes by cancelling the licence”.

“That’s strange”, the Resident Magistrate said “because the house in question has the reputation of being one of the best conducted in Auckland. And as for a riot, I have made my own inquiries and learn from the Police that no such disturbance has taken place to their knowledge. Ample testimony has been adduced that the house is respectably conducted, and the charges are unsupported by any evidence”. The Bench granted Serjeant Sims renewal of his licence.

All the other 22 existing licences were renewed in one collective decision, and then it was time to consider the new applications.

The bench had first to consider a long letter from householders and residents who petitioned against any more licensed premises. It was an annual plea at licensing hearings. “Auckland has more than sufficient public houses”, they claimed, “and that pubs cause depreciation in the value all property in the immediate neighbourhood of such places, then there is an increased risk from fire, a tendency to promote Sabbath profanation and, as well, these places furnish facilities for the spread of drunkenness, vice and immorality, particularly among our youth and native population”. There was a host more reasons advanced by the seasoned Memorialists why the JPs should not issue any further licences.

A public house in Chancery Street was the first to be considered with 3 would-be publicans competing for the licence. The Southern Cross newspaper reported – “Mr William Bacon proved to be the fortunate man, and was eventually the only new applicant licensed”.  The hearing ended with a warning from the Bench: “there’s a shortage of accommodation in Auckland at present and we might not be inclined to renew licenses in future to the present holders if they do not afford ample lodging for strangers”.

William Bacon named his public house “Odd Fellows Arms”. It was at the top end of Chancery Street near where earlier he had a bakery and made and bottled ginger beer, also near the lane that now bears his name.


“Told on Lambton Quay”, a column by The Ancient Mariner, Wairarapa Times Age, October 1895. Abridged.

 An Election Year Topic…

“J.P. or the term Justice of the Peace is not held in sufficient veneration, and the reason is not far to seek.

Successive Governments in their efforts to reward political supporters have palmed off upon the community some rare specimens of crystallised stupidity.(see also below Crystallised Stupidity – A Study). Some Justices are no doubt well worthy of the honour conferred on them, while others only too plainly illustrate that there is, in this country, an overproduction of fools.

Amongst the last batch selected for honourable distinction and permitted to tack on to their names the magic letters J.P., are those often well-known in business circles but who are liable, at frequent intervals, to be seized with paroxysms of egotism.

This complaint threatens to become chronic, more noticeable since these people have been able to sign themselves J.P.  It’s a painful illness but the sufferers are usually unconscious of the affliction and can be somewhat dangerous while the fits of vanity continue. The symptoms are further measured by heaving of a puffed-out chest, a sanguinary colouring of the cheeks, a perky walk, and a swagger movement of the head with the eyes glancing furtively from side to side. When stricken with this complaint, it is only very intimate friends that dare to address the new JP, and they find it best to say some- thing complimentary. Casual acquaintances and strangers are treated to flashes of withering scorn that shrivel them up and spoil their appetites.

Some of our favourably known citizens who are highly respected by the intelligent portion of the community and who count as estimable characters are, in my opinion, unfitted for the position of a Justice of the Peace”.


“Told on Lambton Quay”, a column by The Ancient Mariner, Wairarapa Times Age, October 1895. Abridged

 “Crystallised Stupidity – A Study…

I have said that some of those in the last batch of appointments to Justices of the Peace don’t measure up.  I described them as examples of “crystallised stupidity” and how these JPs are frequently seized by attacks of egotism.

One of the recent appointments as JP is a well-known Wellington gent who holds some important positions, and is in every way an estimable character. Notwithstanding that, he is a bit fiery. He is one of those who, in my opinion, is not unfitted for the position of a Justice of the Peace.

How this J.P. took his seat on the Bench, and the incidents connected therewith, are now matters of history. But let me tell them.

He attended Court in a broadcloth suit, its lustrous sheen glistening, crowned by an expensive bell-topper hat. “Justice tempered with mercy” lurked in the corners of his eyes and the puckers of his mouth. His heart thumped fit to burst, but his demeanour on the whole was modest and unassuming.

He swooped down on the Bench with a superfine slouch, twirled his moustache, then mopped his face with his handkerchief, looked up to the ceiling for inspiration, the flies reminding him that there should be no “flies” on a Justice of the Peace. The other Justices summoned to attend did not turn up, and the novice was thus obliged to take the business by himself, the only case being a hopeless case of drunkenness.

A solitary J.P. on the Bench and a solitary “drunk” in the dock… one was a new chum; the other was an old soldier. The police proved the guilt of the prisoner, and there was nothing left but to fix him up with a punishment. The J.P. bending over the rails of his enclosure appealed to the Clerk of the Court in a whisper, “What’s the usual penalty in such a case?”

“Five bob fine or twenty-four hours inside,” responded the Clerk, who immediately clawed his pen ready to record the decision of the Bench.

But just at this supreme moment something went wrong with the works. The Clerk waited a minute or more and, wondering what the delay was, glanced towards the Bench for an explanation. The J.P. was almost invisible, yet it was quite apparent that he was searching for something. He was rummaging the shelving around the seat of justice, bobbing from one side to the other.

“What is the matter? Have you lost anything?” asked the wondering Clerk.

The response came from the J.P. in a deeply impressive tone, and tinged with a deadly significance.

“I’m looking for the black cap”.

The unfortunate J.P. was seized with the malady (the condition I have often spoken about) paroxysm of egotism, and for the moment, fancied he was a P.J. (Puisne Judge), instead of a J.P. (Justice of the Peace), and was about to sentence the poor sot in the dock to be hanged.

Friends of this fiery J.P. say that anyone wishing to experience the luxury of danger have only to mention to him the words “blackcap”, and missiles of every description will fly about the head and body of the offender.

The JP is making frantic efforts to cure himself of these fits of vanity, but the more he tries the worse they seem to get. He is still alive”.



Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand



RCC 2014