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Justices of the Peace: Should They Be Lawyers?
G. Shawn Swarts
G. Shawn Swarts
G. Shawn Swarts
Shawn graduated with a law degree from University of Western Ontario. Shawn articled in Ottawa, specializing in criminal defence work. Since his call to the bar in 1991, he continues to practice in this area.

Justices of the Peace - should they be Lawyers?

In Ontario a Justice of the Peace is usually the first person of judicial authority an accused meets. Justices of the Peace in the criminal system sit in remand court, hear bail hearings and are also the person who decides whether a search warrant on your home is valid and issues same. Justices of the Peace also hear Provincial offense charges at trial which include incidents as simple as a parking ticket to as serious as a careless driving charge where a person may have been killed. Finally, Justices of the Peace sit on all trials dealing with other non-criminal charges such as pollution cases and work related injury cases. Often in these cases the accused individual or company could be facing literally millions of dollars in fines and up to six months in jail. The question has been raised and is now an issue of a Private Members Bill in the Ontario legislature over whether Justices of the Peace should have legal training (been a lawyer previously).

Liberal MPP David Orazietti (Sault Saint Marie) has brought forward a Private Members Bill legislating that in the future in order to qualify as a Justice of the Peace you would have to have a minimum of five years experience as a lawyer. The rational for that is that even Provincial Offense cases now routinely see Charter of Rights Applications and an increased complexity of legal issues that require a stringent legal background to properly adjudicate.

This legislation is long over due according to York University professor Ian Green, who is an expert on the Charter of Rights and Freedom. Of the 345 Justices of the Peace in Ontario only ten percent have prior experience as lawyers.

At present a Justice of the Peace is appointed through a political process and the only requirement since 2006 is that a Justice of the Peace have a University degree or a Community college degree and 10 years of employment or volunteer experience.

Not surprising the Association of the Justices of the Peace are opposed to this legislation; saying their lack of legal experience provides much needed prospective to the justice system.

The reality is our criminal and quasi criminal justice system has become more and more complex with the laws enacted being more stringent, the amount of fines and possible lengths of incarceration continuing to expand. It is important that Justices of the Peace have proper legal training and background. Finally, it should be noted that Ontario is virtually the last province not requiring Justices of the Peace to be former lawyers; even conservative Alberta adopted this position some years ago. This legislation is long over due in Ontario.

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