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KINGSTON — Legislation to ensure the establishment of a formal structure to promote and preserve the integrity, status and relevance of the Office of the Custos, was passed by the Senate Friday (June 17).

Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Senator Dorothy Lightbourne, moved the Bill, entitled an Act to establish the Office of the Custos Rotulorum.

She explained that the “long overdue” Bill seeks to provide for the establishment of a legal framework, relating to the appointment, tenure, functions, allowances and administrative arrangements of the Office of the Custos.

She explained that the office has been operated by virtue of ministry papers, as there was no legal framework.

“The submission that came to Cabinet in 2010 proposed, among other things, the provision of an office accommodation, with basic office furniture and equipment for the Custodes because, up to then, Custodes operated from their home which was not conducive to the dignity of the office, or for their safety for persons to come into their homes,” Senator Lightbourne said.

Senator Thomas Tavares-Finson noted that he was fully aware of the role of a Custos, and the extent to which their functions have evolved beyond mere custom.  

“We are aware of the tremendous work that our Custodes perform throughout the length and breadth of this country,” Senator Tavares Finson said.

Opposition Senator Mark Golding noted that the legislation outlined certain important things, such as the functions of a Custos and how they are trained. He however suggested that Section 11 (4) of the Act should be amended, to clearly state that the power to remove a Custos from office be vested in the hands of the Governor General.

“It is kind of implied but, if you look at the actual provisions, there is no clear power for the Governor General to remove the Custos from office,” Senator Golding said.

Senator Lightbourne stated that a new clause would be inserted into the Act, to address the concern raised by Senator Golding.

“There will be a new clause which will read, ‘the Custos shall be removed from office by the Governor General by instrument under broad seal’, if the question of the removal from office of the Custos is referred to a tribunal appointed under Sub section 3 and the tribunal has recommended to the Governor General that the Custos ought to be removed from office, on any of the grounds specified in subsection one,” Senator Lightbourne explained.

The Bill was passed with four amendments. The functions of a Custos in Jamaica include: the chief magistrate of the parish, with duty to prepare the roster of Justices of the Peace for courts or petty sessions; to sit, in his parish, as Chairman of the Committee which recommends appointments of Justices of the Peace; and to meet the Circuit Court Judge at the opening session of Circuit in the parish.

As the jurisdiction of the Office of the Justice of the Peace has expanded, so too has there been additional need for Custodes to ensure that standards and regulations are maintained. This has had tremendous impact on further increasing responsibility in maintaining the records, securing, distributing, monitoring and retrieving the seals in respect of  JPs within the parish.

                            

By LATONYA LINTON, JIS Reporer