KINGSTON — Custodes will soon operate under a more formal, standardised structure, with the passage of the Custos Rotulorum Act, 2011 on July 12, 2011 in the House of Representatives.
The legislation, which makes provision for the appointment, tenure, functions, allowances and administrative arrangements for the office of custos, seeks to preserve the integrity, status, and relevance of the office.
Piloting the bill, newly appointed Minister of Justice, Hon. Delroy Chuck, explained that the legislation defines the characteristics that determine the selection of persons for the job of custos. “This includes the demonstration of the highest standard of professionalism, moral and ethical conduct, and the provision of good service at the community and national level,” he said.
Mr. Chuck noted that through their extensive functions and responsibilities, custodes play a significant role in the administration of justice, in facilitating public order and maintaining the peace in their parish. “Custodes represent the Governor-General within the parish to which they are appointed…they are the keeper of the roles of justices of the peace (JPs), and make recommendations for the appointment of Justices of the Peace within the parish,” he informed.
Custodes are also responsible for preparing the roster of JPs for petty session courts in their parish as prescribed by law, and act as the chairmen of various bodies, such as parish disaster preparedness committees.
The bill also outlines the procedure for the resignation, revocation, and termination of a custos, and provides for the official seal of the custos, and circumstances warranting its return. It also imposes a penalty for the improper use of the seal.
During the debate, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Robert Montague said the public should have greater access to JPs and that a stipulation should be put in law for a specified number of JPs to be appointed by custodes, for their individual parish each year.
“Many custodes have refused or have stretched out the process of appointing JPs and in many instance, some have not even appointed a JP for many years, therefore, there should be some mechanism worked out to say that… (if) you have a certain amount of persons in a parish, you should therefore have a certain amount of JPs for the parish,” he stated.
Meanwhile, Member of Parliament for South St. Catherine, Fitz Jackson, suggested that community members should be included in the selection of custodes, by allowing private submissions to the Prime Minister regarding any character trait or circumstance, which the community feels may bring the office into disrepute.
Government members, however, questioned the necessity of such a provision, arguing that this could be an avenue for persons to create mischief.
Minister Chuck pointed out also, that the Prime Minister would have already done due diligence as to the suitability of individuals, before making an appointment.
Mr. Jackson also spoke to the issue of a shortage of JPs, arguing that custodes should be mandated to “keep track” of JPs, as when JPs move out of their parish of origin, they are still on record as serving in that parish, when in fact, they are not.
By ALPHEA SAUNDERS, JIS Reporter