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Our History Recorded in New Book

Ric Carlyon - Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The ‘Year of the Justice of the Peace", during which we celebrated 200 years of Justices of Peace in New Zealand, has been appropriately crowned with publication of a book tracing our history.

“Reading the Riot Act*, A 200 Year History of Justices of the Peace in New Zealand” by Philip Harkness chronicles the days of the first J.P., Thomas Kendall, and other early Justices (this chapter’s subtitled ‘Rough Justice’) through to the present day. The story ends with challenges supporting the case for non-partisan appointments of Justices of the Peace and greater deployment of Justices of the Peace to relieve the workload in District Courts.

Dr Philip Harkness is very well-positioned to write the book: his thesis was about New Zealand’s lay magistracy, he’s been a Justice of the Peace for more than 50 years during which time he has undertaken both Judicial duties on the Bench and Ministerial duties. He’s a former President of Waikato Justices of the Peace Association and is a Life Member of the Auckland Association.  He says in the Preface that this account is “not intended as an academic treatise but rather as a wide-ranging account of the adoption and development in New Zealand of British common justice…”
Philip Harkness has achieved his objective with an easily read text, accompanied by illustrations, telling the story, warts-and-all, from the earliest days of colonisation.

The book is dedicated to the memory of Henry Augustus Thompson, a young Justice of the Peace who was brutally murdered on June 17th 1843 in the execution of his duty at the infamous Wairau Massacre. The book is also in recognition of countless Justices of the Peace who over 200 years have served the New Zealand public in many ways.

*The Riot Act which helps give the book its title was, until 1961, New Zealand law providing for a J.P. to warn off members of unruly crowds, assemblies or gatherings, ordering them to disperse. Those who interfered with the Justice of the Peace reading the Riot Act might he imprisoned, along with anyone lingering in assembly more than an hour after the Riot Act was read. Philip Harkness also points out in his book that any Justice of the Peace who declined to read the Riot Act was also liable to a term of imprisonment!

Copies of “Reading the Riot Act” are available from the Registrar, Roger Brookes and arrangements can be made to pay the cost, $30, by direct credit on-line.

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