A two-tiered JP system in Ontario would be fair and just
Ontario should adopt a two-tiered Justice of the Peace system — like other provinces already have — so that only those JPs with legal training have the authority to decide on bail, search warrants and other serious matters, says Toronto criminal lawyer Matthew Friedberg.
“It is an issue of significant concern — and has been for many years — that many justices of the peace don’t have formal legal training or background,” he tells AdvocateDaily.com. “They are making decisions that have a serious impact on peoples’ lives.”
Friedberg weighs in on the issue after the Toronto Star reported that of the 14 justices of the peace recently appointed by the provincial government, only five have law degrees.
Ontario’s JPs, who are often the first point of contact for individuals entering the criminal justice system, wear black robes and green sashes and earn $127,000 a year, it says.
The newspaper points out that while justices of the peace have the power to deny bail and to incarcerate people for certain offences, few of them have been trained as lawyers.
Ontario’s “lay bench” is different from some other provinces that require JPs to have formal legal education or experience, says the article. In Ontario, they simply require a university or college degree and 10 years of full-time work or volunteer experience, it says.
Some lawyers, including Friedberg, say that should change. They point out that while the role of justices of the peace has evolved to become more powerful and complex, the job qualifications have remained the same, says the newspaper.
Friedberg says it’s important to note that judges are required to have at least 10 years of experience practising as a lawyer before they can sit on the bench "so they can draw on their legal knowledge and experience in order to apply the law correctly." But justices of the peace aren’t required to have any legal experience or education and are tasked with making important decisions that are often life-changing for people, he says.