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A Sergeant at Arms (sometimes spelled Serjeant at Arms) is an officer appointed by a deliberative body, usually a legislature, to keep order during its meetings. The word sergeant is derived from the Latin serviens, which means "servant".

Origins

The term Sergeant can be divided into two main definitions; one being a military role and the other governmental. Whereas technically the two roles were not mutually exclusive, they bore very different significance and duties. The sergeant that was a soldier was a man of what would be termed in modern society 'middle class' origins, fulfilling a slightly junior role to the knight in the medieval hierarchy. Sergeants could fight either as heavy to light cavalry, or as well-trained professional infantry, either spearmen or crossbowmen. Most notable medieval mercenaries fell into the 'sergeant' class, such as Flemish crossbowmen and spearmen, who were seen as reliable quality troops. The sergeant class were deemed to be 'worth half of a knight' in military value. The office originated in medieval England to serve the Sovereign in a police role, much like a bailiff in more recent times. Indeed, the Sergeants at Arms constitute the oldest royal bodyguard in England, dating from the time of King Richard I (around 1189) as a formed body.

The sergeant at arms was a personal attendant upon the King, especially charged with arresting those suspected of treason. Richard I had 24 with him on the Crusades. They were formed into a 20-strong Corps of Sergeants at Arms by King Edward I in 1278, as a mounted close escort. In 1399 King Richard II limited the corps to 30 Sergeants, and King Charles II had 16. The number was reduced to 8 in 1685 and since then it has gradually declined.

The original responsibilities of the Sergeant at Arms included "collecting loans and, impressing men and ships, serving on local administration and in all sorts of ways interfering with local administration and justice." Around 1415, the British House of Commonsmarker received its first Sergeant at Arms. From that time onwards the Sergeant has been a royal appointment, the Sergeant being one of the Sovereign's Sergeants at Arms. The House of Lordsmarker has a similar officer.

The formal role of a Sergeant at Arms in modern legislative bodies is to keep order during meetings, and, if necessary, forcibly remove any members who are overly rowdy or disruptive. A Sergeant at Arms may thus be a retired soldier, police officer, or other official with experience in security. In recent times, however, the positions have often become quite ceremonial in some countries, with actual ability to eject members not necessarily being a primary requirement . The Sergeant at Arms of the House of Commons has general charge of certain administrative and custodial functions, as well as security within the chamber of the House.

Specific Countries

Canada

The Sergeant-at-Arms is the senior official of the Canadian House of Commons. In this role, the sergeant-at-arms is responsible for the building services and security of the House of Commons, and is appointed by the Governor General acting on the advice of the Federal cabinet. The sergeant-at-arms carries the mace, the symbol of the authority of the House, in the daily parade into the House of Commons chamber.

The current Sergeant-at-Arms is Kevin M. Vickers.

Israel

The Knessetmarker of Israelmarker has a sergeant-at-arms (officially known in Hebrew as "קצין הכנסת" ("katzin ha-Knesset"), lit. "Officer of the Knesset", but as "sergeant at arms" in English). The sergeant-at-arms is the commander of the Knesset Guard.

New Zealand

The New Zealand House of Representatives operates under the Westminster parliamentary system. The Serjeant-at-Arms is a permanent Officer of the House and controls the Chamber & Gallery Section comprising 20 officers. Duties in addition to normal management tasks are the House security and maintaining good order in conduct of visitors (strangers) visiting the Gallery areas, access controls to the doors to the floor of the House, lobbies and the on the floor of the House as directed by the Speaker. There is a major ceremonial role, with the Mace for the Speakers Procession. When working with the Deputy Speaker and two Assistant Speakers the same rules apply for the House when they are in the Speakers chair.The Serjeant is an employee of the New Zealand Parliamentary Service, but when the House sits he is only answerable to the Speaker.For the House business the Serjeant and his Chamber & Gallery Officers work very closely with the Clerk of the House.

The current Serjeant-at-Arms is Brent V Smith

South Africa

The Serjeant-at-Arms is a member of the parliamentary staff who acts as the official guardian of the mace, a decorated rod which is the symbol of the authority of the Parliament of South Africamarker. The mace must be in position in the National Assembly Chamber during a plenary sitting.

The Serjeant-at-Arms is also responsible for maintaining the attendance register of the Members in the House. S/he must also maintain order in the House and remove people from the House as ordered by the Speaker.

According to the National Assembly Rules, "the Serjeant-at-Arms shall remove, or cause to be removed, any stranger from any part of a Chamber which has been set apart for members only, and also any stranger who, having been admitted into any other part of the Chamber, misconducts himself or herself or does not withdraw when strangers are ordered to withdraw."

The current Serjeant-at-Arms is Godfrey Cleinwerck. He is attired in a black tailcoat, smart waistcoat, starched white shirt, bowtie and white gloves. The Usher of the Black Rod is Vincent Shabalala whose duty it is to escort the presiding officers of the National Council of Provinces into its Chamber.

Sri Lanka

The Parliament of Sri Lanka was established in the from of the Westminster parliamentary system. The Sergeant-at-Arms second most important permanent officer in the Parliament, who heads his own department, the Department of the Sergeant-at-Arms. The Sergeant-at-Arms is appointed by the Secretary General of Parliament and is responsible for all ceremonial occasions as the master of ceremonies in Parliament, preservation of order, custody of the Mace, security, admission of visitors, allocation of accommodation within the House and supervision of galleries.

Responsible for security, by tradition he is the only officer authorized to carry a weapon inside the Parliament building and is assisted by the Parliament Police Division. Admission of visitors to the precincts of Parliament is controlled by the Sergeant-at-Arms.

The current Sergeant-at-Arms is Anil P. Samarasekara.

United Kingdom

The Serjeant-at-Arms is responsible for security matters concerning the House of Commons; the equivalent officer for the House of Lords is Black Rod. The Serjeant, whilst in the Commons overseeing proceedings, can also escort MPs out of the chamber by order of the Speaker of the House. The post dates back to 1415, and was traditionally held by retired military or police figures.

The current Serjeant-at-Arms is Ms. Jill Pay, who was appointed on 30 January 2008, having previously been Assistant Serjeant at Arms since September 2004. Her appointment was seen by some as controversial, as she was the first woman appointed to the role, and the first person recruited from the civil service rather than the police or military. The appointment also coincided with a downgrading of the security aspect with the appointment of a professional security coordinator for Parliament.

In November 2008, following the controversial arrest of Shadow Immigration Minister Damian Green, and subsequent search of his parliamentary office by the Metropolitan Police, who were given written consent to do so by the Serjeant-at-Arms without holding a search warrant, the Speaker of the House stated that the protocol would in future require a search warrant and his personal approval before such a search could happen.
The Speaker's assertion in this speech that the Police had failed in their obligation to inform the Serjeant-at-Arms of the fact that they required a warrant was denied by Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick.


Ms Pay's immediate predecessors were:

United States

The two houses of the United States Congress have also adopted the Sergeant-at-Arms. In both cases, the sergeants are charged with the maintenance of order on the floor of the chamber (in the House, he may "display" the mace in front of an unruly member as an admonition to behave); they serve with the architect of the Capitol building on the commission that oversees the United States Capitol Police and security for the Congress, and they serve a variety of other functional and ceremonial roles.

Other Uses

In imitation, a variety of other bodies—from state and local legislative houses (city councils, county legislatures and the like) to civic and social organizations—have created posts of sergeants at arms, primarily to enforce order at the direction of the chair and to assist in practical details of organizing meetings.

References

  1. Parliament of Australia: House of Representatives
  2. Parliamentary Monitoring Group
  3. Parliament of the Republic of South Africa
  4. UK Parliament - Serjeant at Arms
  5. Hansard 9 Sept 2004
  6. Hansard 20 Dec 2004



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