The office of justice of the peace can be traced back to the ‘keepers of the peace’ in 1195 and ‘conservators of the peace’ during the reigns of Henry III and Edward I, but the principal statutory provisions establishing the justices of the peace were those of the 14th cent., especially the Justices of the Peace Act 1361. By a statute of 1362, the justices of each county were to meet four times a year and these sessions were therefore known as ‘quarter sessions’.
During the 18th cent. the practice arose of reserving the many capital cases for the assizes, and by the Quarter Sessions Act 1842 the jurisdiction of quarter sessions over such offences as treason, murder, felonies punishable with penal servitude for life, and certain other offences was removed. Quarter sessions were abolished by the Courts Act 1971.