What are the three arms of government in Jamaica?
What are the Three Arms of Government in Jamaica? Answered by Kesha Stewart, Associate Writer
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The three arms of government in Jamaica are, The Executive, The Legislature and The Judiciary
Do you know/remember the book “Civics for Young Jamaicans”? My word! It was a prized possession in my school days as we did a course called Civics.
I must confess that I loved the course and the book as well. Mr. L.C. Ruddock wrote this helpful and informative book which taught me a great deal about governance, how government is structured and the arms of government in Jamaica, as well as how national symbols, such as the national flag, should be treated.
If you’re old enough to remember actually using that text then I won’t embarrass you but you are probably as old as or a little older than me. If you don’t know the book, well don’t worry, in this article I'll enlighten you on the composition and structure of these three arms of governement.
With a particular bias to our British Colonial links, Jamaica uses the Westminster- Whitehall system of government which is British based in its design and execution.
We are described as a “constitutional monarchy” (JIS, 2016). Queen Elizabeth II is our Head of State and the Governor General (GG) represents her here so the government acts as Head of State and is the first citizen of the country.
So yes, this Westminster-Whitehall system consists of three distinct arms of government:
- The Executive
- The Legislature and
- The Judiciary.
Although they interrelate, there are very distinct functions and features which lend individuality to each part.
The system dictates that each Jamaican having attained the age of 18 has the right to vote to elect the persons who will carry on the affairs of the country. This is known as Universal Adult Suffrage. Unfortunately, you lose this right if you are incarcerated or mentally unfit.
The Executive (The Cabinet)
The Prime Minister (PM) heads the Cabinet which is the executive arm of government, and that effectively renders the PM the CEO of the country.
When a General Election is declared, the leader of the victorious party is sworn in by the Governor General (GG) as Prime Minister. The PM then recommends at least 11 other persons who will work with him to the GG - who will swear them in.
These individuals are called ministers. Each is tasked to lead a ministry (portfolio), two notable examples of ministries could be Health or Education. They would therefore be called Minister of Health and Minister of Education respectively.
Each minister is a Member of Parliament from the ruling party or a member of the Senate (upper house).
Essentially the minister is a policymaker; he/she is assisted by a Minister of State (Junior Minister). He/she gives oversight to the ministry (some ministers have more than one ministry) by managing or implementing the policies and programmes of the government of the day.
A minister may (or may not) have formal knowledge about the portfolio assigned- that is to say the Minister of Health is not necessarily someone with a medical background, however, there is a valuable arsenal in the minister’s armoury, a senior public servant known as the Permanent Secretary. He/she can help to operationalize the policies of the ministry on a day to day basis.
Consequently this individual is entrusted with many responsibilities as the minister delegates.
Have you ever heard about a ‘Statutory Body’?
A statutory body is an agency of the state which independently carries out specific aspects of the states affairs. These bodies fall within the executive arm. The Passport Immigration and Citizenship Agency (PICA) is one of several statutory bodies.
Executives of the government
At this point I will just highlight for you two important members of the executive:
- Attorney General – this person acts as a legal advisor to the government
- Director of Public prosecutions – a qualified attorney at law who has the direct responsibility for commencing, continuing or discontinuing criminal prosecutions
The Legislature (Parliament)
Under the Jamaican constitution, the legislature is empowered to amend old laws or enact new ones.
The Legislature is bicameral, that is to say there are two separate law making groups operating in the legislative framework. So we have both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Sounds confusing? Let me see if I can help clear it up for you.
- The Senate / Upper House
The Upper House, one part and the legislative arm, is also called the Senate. These individuals are nominated by the Governor General based on the advice of the PM and the Leader of the Opposition.
The PM names 13 such and the Leader of the Opposition names the remaining 8 to arrive at the 21 member composition. The members of this group are called Senators; they are in three (3) categories – government, opposition, and independent. When the House of Representatives passes a bill or makes changes to an old bill it must be sent to the Upper House for review.
- The House of Representatives/Lower House
The other arm is the House of Representatives, commonly called the Lower House. These people are the ones who have successfully contested seats in an election and were elected to represent one of the 63 constituencies which now exist in Jamaica.
The members are referred to as Members of Parliament (MPs). These two legislative bodies are also in charge of the finances of the government and provide guidance for the fiscal policy.
Because we have been bequeathed with the Queen of England as our Head of State, her role needs to be carried out by someone, this is our Governor General (GG). This individual has several important functions, for example, if the GG does not sign a bill it cannot be enacted into law.
This third arm of government is indeed an important one, it is the Judiciary.
We have an intricate network of courts which are strategically designed to support the legal system operating in Jamaica. This is how they are organized from the highest to the lowest.
- The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
This is the final court of appeal and is based in London, England. It hears appeals on criminal and civil matters from the Jamaican Court of Appeal.
In other words if you lose a case at this level there is no other legal recourse. Did you know that there have been numerous debates over the years as to whether or not the Privy Council should remain our final appellate court?
One of the arguments being forwarded is that it is extremely expensive to have a case heard there and one needs a visa if he/she needs to make a court appearance. This, they argue, takes justice out of the hands of the average person.
- The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ)
The 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.
Did you know that some groups and individuals are asking the government for a referendum to determine if the CCJ should become Jamaica’s highest court?
- The Court of Appeal
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
The Supreme court is responsible for hearing serious civil and criminal matters. By the way, did you know that the Supreme Court only recently received the technology which enables it to accept testimonies via CCTV?
- 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 also several other special courts such as Traffic, Gun, Family, Revenue, Coroner’s, Juvenile and Civil Courts.
And one final point, each arm of Government, meaning the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary, is supported by what is called the 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 though and work through agencies, departments and Ministries to maintain stability in the country.
2) In a Nutshell The Jamaica Constitution, 1962 - Kingston Jamaica