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The magistracy comprises those members of the judiciary who preside over Victoria's 52 Magistrates' Courts, the best known of which is the Melbourne Magistrates' Court, as well as the Coroner's Court and the Children's Court. The composition, status and role of the magistracy has altered significantly since 1836, when Captain William Lonsdale was appointed as the first Police Magistrate in Port Phillip. During the magistracy's formative years, police magistrates and other paid officers such as Commissioners of Crown Lands, Protectors of Aborigines and Gold Fields Commissioners combined their duty of dispensing summary justice with various policing and administrative functions. Justices of the Peace, in keeping with English practice, were commissioned from the ranks of local gentlemen and were empowered in an honorary capacity to preside over Courts of Petty Sessions, which in 1969 were renamed Magistrates' Courts. By 1909 Justices of the Peace numbered 2514 and still provided the sole magisterial presence in some suburban courts. The composition of the magistracy had, from the earliest times, been a point of considerable contention, with allegations of patronage and of ignorance and incompetence on the part of some magistrates. By the mid-1970s Victoria's 5238 Justices of the Peace, of whom 216 were women, were still empowered to perform magisterial duties in court, although in practice this was increasingly uncommon. It was not until 1989 that the magistracy was limited to barristers and solicitors of at least five years standing and to officers or clerks of court with a minimum of ten years experience.

Susanne Davies

Palmer, D., 'Magistrates, Police and Power in Port Phillip', in D. Philips and S. Davies (eds), A nation of rogues? Crime, law and punishment in colonial Australia, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1994, pp. 73-96. Details
Weber, T., 'History of the Magistracy', in Guilty, Your Worship, Legal Studies Department, La Trobe University, occasional monograph, 1, 1980, pp. 3-16. Details