The justice of the peace typically presides over a court that hears misdemeanor cases and other small cases of police infractions. The justice of the peace may also have authority over cases involving small debts, landlord and tenant disputes, or other small claims court proceedings. Proceedings before the justice of the peace are often faster and less formal than the proceedings in other courts. In some jurisdictions a party convicted or found liable before the justice of the peace may have the right to a trial de novo before the judge of a higher court rather than an appeal strictly considered. At least in popular fiction, the justice of the peace is the judge to whom parties seeking a quick and informal civil marriage can repair.
Historically, in England and in other common law jurisdictions, a justice of the peace was an unpaid local magistrate appointed by royal commission to keep the peace within the jurisdiction they were appointed for. Being an unpaid office, undertaken more for the sake of renown and to confirm the justice's standing within the community, the justice was typically a member of the gentry. The justice of the peace conducted arraignments in all criminal cases, and tried misdemeanors and infractions of local ordinances and bylaws. Communities with enough burdensome judicial business that could not find volunteers for the unpaid role of justice of the peace had to petition the Crown for authority to hire a paid magistrate.
In many states the office of justice of the peace has been abolished or transferred to another court.