A brief history of the Honorary Justices Association of Tasmania Inc.

The Association – now known more often by its initials, the HJAT – was formed on the 2 September 1925 at a community meeting held at the Launceston Town Hall.

Those attending on that auspicious occasion heard speakers state that “It would be a great advantage to them to be connected with a Justice Association, which could render valuable assistance in settling knotty questions.” The next practical requirement, they were told, was “that instruction should be given on the chief duty of Justices, which was to look after drunks on Mondays”!

A further meeting was soon held to elect office-bearers and a committee, draw up rules for the new Association and, no doubt with looking after drunks on Mondays in mind, to compile a roster of sixty JPs who would be called upon to sit on the Bench.

In 1926 Mrs Muschamp was recorded as the first woman member of the Association and 1933 saw the first reference to an Association Journal.

In the early years there was no formal training for Justices of the Peace, leading to loosely structured sub-groups springing up in various parts of the State, in places as diverse as Flinders Island and Beaconsfield.  A North-West Association was first formed in 1954 but gradually declined as members chose to join the HJAT.

By the mid-2000’s it became apparent that it was fitting and timely for the HJAT to support (and provide financial assistance for) the re-establishment of a North-West association.  The Honorary Justices’ Association of Tasmania – North West – Inc. was formed on the 15 August 2006.  Today, both kindred associations maintain and enjoy close links.

In 1935 the Attorney-General was requested to give Justices the use of a room in the new courthouse soon to be built in Launceston. At the time of the 50th Anniversary of the Association in 1975, they were still waiting! However, through the efforts of then President, the late Mr Ron Macdonald and then Chief Magistrate, Mr Arnold Shott, an office was secured for the Association on the ground floor of Henty House. It was officially opened by Mr Shott on the 27 October 2003.

In August 2019, the HJAT moved to a new office in the C H Smith Centre in Lower Charles Street, provided by the state government.  It serves as the Association’s headquarters and, through the roster of members, provides a regular daily service to those in the community requiring the services of a justice of the peace.  Since the first office was opened in 2003, this service to  northern Tasmania has become an integral part of the Association’s activities with up to 30,000 documents being witnessed or certified each year.  

Equally important is the Association’s quarterly Journal which has been produced continuously since that first reference to it in 1933.  Today the Journal, together with this website, is the prime means by which the HJAT stays in touch with its members. Its content reflects the importance the HJAT Committee of Management places on professional development: disseminating topical and relevant material that will assist member JP’s in the performance of their duties.

In northern Tasmania, the HJAT delivers Level One training to new JP’s as part of their induction process on behalf of the Department of Justice. And, in line with our emphasis today on PD, regular refresher courses are offered annually to members. With frequent changes to legislation and the obligations placed on justices of the peace, both in Tasmania and the other states, on-going professional development for justices of the peace is essential.

Most justices of the peace no longer sit “on the bench” in court, although this is still a vital service undertaken in Hobart, Launceston, Burnie and Devonport   by a small group appointed by the Chief Magistrate.  Training for Bench JP’s is now delivered by the Magistrate’s Court.

Throughout its history, the HJAT has been fortunate to count among its members and office-bearers community and civic leaders, members of the professions and academics. It has also been similarly fortunate in securing the patronage of Governors of Tasmania and the present Governor, the Hon. Kate Warner AC, continues that tradition as Patron.