The System under Pressure
In the third quarter of the 16th Century the rule of the JP's began to be questioned. It was alleged that many of them neglected their duties or were incapable of performing them. In the words of Elizabeth Is Lord Keeper: "Her Majesty may be driven, clean contrary to her most gracious nature and inclination, to appoint and assign private men for profit and gain sake to see her penal laws to be executed". At the same time it was acknowledged that many were conscientious. These, however, were said to be over-burdened and unable to meet the increasing demands of their office.
In 1590 a new Commission was introduced redefining the duties of JP's. Seven years later they were given responsibility for the administration of the Poor Law. Meanwhile, their duties in operating the criminal law were increasing so rapidly that Labarde's work on the duties of Justices ran to more than 700 pages. The most controversial ordinance affecting JP's was the Act of 1652 empowering them to perform marriages and making all other forms of the ceremony illegal. When this exclusive right was repealed it became necessary to regularise the position of those already married by JP's by providing in the Act of Charles II that such marriages were to be held valid.
Social Fluctuations in Appointments
Under the Commonwealth, the social distribution of appointments widened. There were fewer noblemen and more esquires in the Commission. This trend, however, was reversed at the Restoration. The nobilityreturned to power and were the instruments of the Crown in enforcing measures against dissenters. They enforced uniformity in worship as their forerunners had done under Elizabeth I, but religious fluctuations again brought confusion. James II tried to pack the Commissions with his adherents.
Land Interest Weakened
The revolution of 1688 brought radical changes. In 1700, 74 Middlesex Justices were removed from the Commission. Property qualifications rather than political or religious allegiance carried weight. In 1732 the property qualification, which had remained Commission. Property qualifications rather than political or religious allegiance carried weight. In 1732 the property qualification, which had remained unchanged since 1439, was raised. It was held 12 years later that it was "of the utmost consequence to provide against persons of mean estates" being appointed. The Lord Lieutenant appointed "Only men of substance" on the recommendation to the Crown. In the second half
As early as the 16th Century, JP's had divided themselves into local groups to deal with vagrancy, poor relief etc. In 1605, local sessions for the dispatch of urgent business not requiring jury were instituted by an order of the Privy Council. As the work increased these came to be known as Petty Sessions, but not until 1828 did they become established by statute. In that year the county Justices were authorised to divide their counties into Petty Sessional Districts. In each of these the JP's engaged a local attorney to act as clerk.