Assize Church Service Marks Opening of the Michaelmas Term of the Home Circuit Court

Story Highlights

  • The Assize Church Service, which marks the commencement of the Michaelmas term of the Home Circuit Court, continues to be a significant ceremony for Jamaica’s justice system.
  • The annual service, which was held on Sunday (September 17) at the East Queen Street Baptist Church in Downtown, Kingston, saw the participation of a range of stakeholders of the country’s justice system and in the legal profession locally.
  • Retired Chief Librarian with the Supreme Court, Carol Ford, in an interview with JIS News, underscored the value of maintaining this tradition and expressed enthusiasm that the practice has been revived locally in recent years, following a period when it was not being held.

The Assize Church Service, which marks the commencement of the Michaelmas term of the Home Circuit Court, continues to be a significant ceremony for Jamaica’s justice system.

The annual service, which was held on Sunday (September 17) at the East Queen Street Baptist Church in downtown Kingston, saw the participation of a range of stakeholders of the country’s justice system and in the legal profession locally.

In attendance were Minister of Justice, Hon Delroy Chuck; Chief Justice, Hon. Zaila McCalla; and other stakeholders.

The Jamaican ceremony is based on the English practice that was transferred to the colonies from as far back as the 17th century.

The Surrey History Centre and the Kingston Court in England report that the assizes, which are courts held in the main county towns and presided over by the visiting judges from the higher courts, were first established by King Henry II, who reigned from 1154 to 1189.

According to historical sources, the arrival of the assize judges in a town was a very solemn occasion, because the judges directly represented the power and authority of the Crown. As a result, an elaborate ceremony developed around their arrival.

This event carried through the centuries and the assize church service is used in present day to commemorate its historical value and to seek blessings for the court year. Similar services, with a range of formats and names, are held across the region, including in Barbados, Belize, and Trinidad and Tobago, as well as in the United States.

Retired Chief Librarian with the Supreme Court, Carol Ford, in an interview with JIS News, underscored the value of maintaining this tradition and expressed enthusiasm that the practice has been revived locally in recent years, following a period when it was not being held.

“It is to ask God’s blessings on the court year and on the administration of justice,” she said.

The court year is divided into four terms, the first of which begins on September 16 annually, or the Monday following the 16th if it falls on a weekend. The assize church service is held on the Sunday immediately before the opening of the Circuit.

Ms. Ford said she believes members of the judiciary, led by the Chief Justice, are positively impacted by the assize service and what it represents.

The theme for this year’s service, taken from the Jamaican National Pledge, is ‘Justice, Brotherhood and Peace’.

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