Appointment of unofficial magistrates

The smallest Criminal Court was originally known as the Police Court which later came to be called the Police Magistrate’s Court. At that time senior legal practitioners in these courts were given the title of Justice of the Peace and Un-Official Police Magistrate (J.P., U.P.M.).

After the Police Magistrate’s Court came to hear quasi criminal matters the Police Magistrate’s Court came to be called the Magistrate’s Court and senior legal practitioners were given the title of Justice of the Peace and Unofficial Magistrate (J.P.,U.M.). The practice was for the Judicial Services Commission to name senior lawyers in a court to act for the Magistrate.

The appointee was usually the most senior and respected practitioner in that court. Senior criminal lawyers felt privileged to act for the Learned Magistrate as it enhanced their reputation and practice. However the appointments made today are far from desirable owing to the low quality of the appointees. Since these Unofficial Magistrates who act for the permanent Magistrate curry favour with the police for their personal gains, they should be debarred from appearing at police stations at police investigations.

In early days, on the day an Unofficial Magistrate acted for the permanent Magistrate he would travel direct to the Magistrate’s Chambers without going to his office.

Today the acting magistrates make suse of their juniors to collect the fees for the day. Some even see to it that their clients are produced before them by an arrangement with the police.

It is well known that if persons who act for the Magistrate are retained at police investigations the police lean heavily in favour of the acting magistrate.
Derek J. P. Fernando
Colombo 12