Overview of the Government of Jamaica

Special Features

In Jamaica, the system of governance is a constitutional monarchy or limited monarchy under which The Queen, represented by a Governor-General, is head of state.

Under the constitutional monarchy, there are three arms of government:

  • The Executive
  • The Legislature
  • The Judiciary

The Jamaican Constitution was drafted to reflect the British socio-political model known as the Westminster-Whitehall system of government. This model guarantees that citizens, through universal adult franchise have the right to participate in free and fair elections, and choose the officials that govern the country.

Head of State

The head of state is the sovereign monarch of Jamaica. The Governor-General is the official representative of the head of state in Jamaica. The incumbent has the responsibility to appoint the principal officials responsible for leading the state.

The Governor-General appoints the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, Members of the Cabinet, the Chief Justice, President of the Court of Appeal, Ministers of State, Judges of the Court of Appeal, Chairs of the Public Services Commissions and the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Additionally, the Governor-General is solely responsible for granting the Prerogative of Mercy (Pardon) to convicted offenders upon the advice of the Privy Council.

The Governor-General’s formal assent is required before parliamentary bills become enacted into laws.

The Executive (The Cabinet)

The Executive comprises the Prime Minster and members of the Cabinet. The Prime Minister and the Cabinet have the responsibility to guide Government policy. The Prime Minister presides over the Cabinet, whose members are selected from among the elected officials of the majority party, known as Members of Parliament, as well as members of the Senate.

The Cabinet must include the Prime Minister and no less than eleven (11) other Ministers. These Ministers are assigned at least one of the core areas, known as Ministries, (for example, finance, education, telecommunications, etc.). It is through the Ministries and their multiple Departments and Agencies that the Executive, manages and implements Government policies and programmes. The main function of each Ministry is primarily administrative. A Ministry is headed by a Minister (usually an elected member of the governing party who has been selected by the Prime Minister). Each Minister operates from a central office where they delegate responsibilities through a Permanent Secretary (a senior civil servant).

When a new Government is elected or when there is a vacancy for the office of Prime Minister, the Governor-General appoints the Prime Minister from among the members of the House of Representatives. The most common practice is that the Prime Minister is the leader of the majority party in the Houses of Parliament.

Additionally, there are special bodies under Jamaican law with direct authority over certain aspects of Government business. These bodies are known as statutory bodies and are autonomous agents within the Government of Jamaica hierarchy. Examples of statutory bodies are the Jamaica National Heritage Trust and the National Housing Trust.

Attorney General

The role of the Attorney General is to advise the Government on legal matters. This is a Cabinet appointment usually by the Governor-General on recommendation of the Prime Minister. The Attorney General is not involved in criminal prosecutions.

Local Government

The administration of government business is further decentralised through Local Government entities. These entities are the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC), the Portmore Municipal Council and 12 parish councils. These elected officials are responsible for maintaining infrastructure and public facilities such as parochial roads, water supplies, drains, parks and recreational centres, markets, transportation centres and public sanitary conveniences.

 The Legislature (Parliament)

The Legislature is responsible for enacting and amending laws for the peace, order and development of Jamaica. The Jamaican Parliament is bicameral, meaning the Parliament is composed of the Monarch and two legislative bodies ̶ the nominated Senate, commonly referred to as the Upper House and the elected House of Representatives, known as the Lower House.

The Legislature is empowered by the Constitution to amend existing and enact new laws. This arm is also in control of the Government’s finances and guides fiscal policy.

Elected officials representing the 63 constituencies are members of the House of Representatives and are generally referred to as Members of Parliament. Meanwhile, there are 21 members of the Senate. On the advice of the Prime Minister, 13 members are nominated and the remaining eight on the recommendation of the Leader of the Opposition. The primary function of the Senate is to review bills passed in the House of Representatives.

The Head of State’s role in Parliament, executed through the Governor-General, is to open and dissolve Parliament and grant royal assent to bills passed in the Houses of Parliament.

The Auditor General

This appointment is usually based on the suggestion of the Public Service Commission. The Auditor General is responsible for auditing the accounts of all public offices. Reports of these findings are usually presented in the House of Representatives under the supervision of the Public Accounts Committee.

The Judiciary

The legal system of Jamaica is based on British common-law. The administration of justice is carried out through a network of courts.

The courts of Jamaica are:

  • The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which is the final court of appeal, is based in London, England. It hears appeals on criminal and civil matters from the Jamaican Court of Appeal.
  • The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is one of the primary institutions of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). The CCJ has two core functions − to act as the final appellate court for the CARICOM member states and as an international court ruling on matters relating to the foreign policy coordination of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (2001) that outlines terms of economic cooperation among CARICOM members.
  • The Court of Appeal consists of the President of the Court of Appeal, the Chief Justice (who sits at the invitation of the President) and six judges of the Court of the Appeal. A person who is dissatisfied with a decision of one of the other courts, except Petty Sessions, can appeal to this court. Petty Sessions appeals are heard by a judge in chambers or by Justices of the Peace.
  • The Supreme Court of Jamaica is responsible for hearing serious civil and criminal matters.
  • At the parish level, the Resident Magistrates’ Courts deal with less serious civil and criminal offences. The Resident Magistrate of a parish is also the Coroner and conducts preliminary inquiries into criminal matters.
  • There are other special courts such as Traffic, Gun, Family, Revenue, Coroner’s, Juvenile and Civil Courts.

The arms of Government, the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary are supported by Public Services Commissions. These Services Commissions are in place to guide the appointment and dismissal of public officers of the Government of Jamaica.

The arms of Government are all interconnected and work through agencies, departments and Ministries to maintain stability in the country.

Prepared by the Jamaica Information Service, March 2016.

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