The Office of the Custos evolved from Jamaica's colonial past and can be traced back to the fourteenth century England when in 1391 King Richard II issued the Grand Commission appointing Custodes and Justices of the Peace to assist in maintaining law and order in the counties.
The office subsequently merged into that of the Lord Lieutenancy of each county. Appointments to this position were made by Royal Commission under the Reserve Forces Act, 1980. Each Lord Lieutenant was also appointed by the Lord Chancellor as the Custos Rotulorum or Keeper of the Rolls.
In Jamaica, the first mention of the office appears in the Legislative Council Minutes of the 28th day of July, 1668 in an Ordinance dealing with the Orderly Proceedings of the Courts within the island.
There, the holder of this office was described as the first citizen of the parish appointed by the Governor as his representative to assist in the maintenance of good order and discipline in the parish and upholding the rule of law. The first Custos mentioned by name was Henry Morgan as the Custos of Port Royal during the Governorship of the Earl of Carlisle in 1680. Then and thereafter the duties and powers at various times included:
- Custos Rotulorum or Keeper of the Roll of the Justices of the Peace who preside at Petty Sessions Court and being the Chief Magistrate for the parish.
- To receive the Sovereign, any representative of the royal family, His Excellency The Governor as representing the sovereign when within the precincts of the parish.
- To recommend to the Governor from time to time ‘gentlemen' for commission as Justices as the parish required.
- As a prerequisite, the holder [the Custos] must be a Justice of the Peace and have dealt with such minor criminal charges as are within his jurisdiction.
- An ex-officio member of the Parochial Board and in this capacity could exercise very beneficial influence. He was required to attend the meetings of the Board as often as possible.
- Required from time to time to visit the hospitals, poorhouses and other institutions including every prison in the parish and to discover any abuse therein and report the same to the Governor. This was aimed at ensuring that the affairs of these institutions were conducted properly.
- Except in the parish of Kingston, to appoint one or more polling places at all elections and one or more persons to keep the poll at the elections of the Vestrymen (now Parish Councillors) and the Church Wardens (that is the Church of England or Anglican denomination).
- Be the chairman of the Board of Highways and Bridges in the parish.
APPOINTMENT AND DUTIES
Ministry Paper Numbered 2, Appendix I, approved by Parliament on the 5th day of July, 1959 and gazetted on the 5th day of February, 1963 outlined the following new procedures regarding the appointment and functions of the Custos:
- There shall be a Custos Rotulorum for every parish in Jamaica. The Custos shall be appointed by the Governor-General acting on the advice of the Prime Minister. He shall be a resident of the parish to which he is appointed save in the case of the Corporate Area.
- A Custos shall hold office during the Governor-General's pleasure and shall in any event vacate his office on transferring his residence from the parish (or the Corporate Area in the case of Kingston and St. Andrew) or on attaining the age of seventy-five years, unless specially requested to continue in office, provided that the age limit shall not apply to Custodes who were appointed prior to 1958.
- The Custos of the parish is the representative of the Governor-General within the parish. It is his duty, in the absence of the Governor-General, to receive the Sovereign, any member of the royal family, the Prime Minister on an official visit, or any important personage commended by the Governor-General who arrives within the precincts of the parish. It is his duty to receive the Governor-General when he pays official visits to the parish.
- The Custos is the Chief Magistrate of the parish, and it is his duty to prepare a roster of the Justices of the Peace within the parish so that there are sufficient JPs at each meeting of the Petty Sessions Court and in the various districts to carry out the work.
- The Custos will act as Chairman of the committee in each parish that is responsible for making recommendations to the Minister in regard to suitable persons for appointment as Justices of the Peace.
- The Custos on behalf of the Governor-General, will interest himself in the work of all voluntary organisations in the parish, and will ensure that their activities receive suitable recognition on public occasions.
- The Custos will meet the Judge of the Circuit Court at the Court House at the opening session.
In addition of the above, Custodes in recent times have served as:
- Chairman of the Governor-General's Achievement Awards Committee
- Chairman of the Parish Advisory Committee on Local Government Reform
- Chairman of the Community Consultative Committee for the parish
- Chairman of the Prime Minister's Values and Attitudes Committee for the parish
- Chairman of the parish Disaster Preparedness Committee
PRIVILEGES OF THE OFFICE
The Custos is entitled to the following:
- To be referred to as "Honourable" both during his tenure of office and after retirement.
- To affix a pair of official "C R" (Custos Rotulorum) plates to his motor vehicle.
- To be conferred with a National Honour of no less a rank than that of Order of Distinction (Commander Class) upon his appointment or soon thereafter.
ORDER OF PRECEDENCE