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Annual Assize service tomorrow

Saturday, September 29, 2012    

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MEMBERS of the Jamaican judiciary and the legal fraternity will tomorrow participate in the annual Assize Service at the East Queen Street Baptist Church, marking the start of the Michaelmas term of the Home Circuit Court.

The service is scheduled for 10:00 am and will also be attended by other dignitaries.

The Assize Service is a European tradition from the middle ages exported to the colonies from about the 17th century. It occurs on the last Sunday of every September each year.

Judges, dressed in black robes and white wigs, and lawyers dressed in robes only, will march into the church as part of the tradition. Congregants, led by Reverend Dr Roy Henry will invoke God’s blessings on those responsible for the administration of justice.

The Jamaican ceremony is based on the English custom. The Surrey History Centre and Kingston Crown Court in England report that the Assizes, which are courts held in the main county towns and presided over by visiting judges from the higher courts, were first established by Henry II (1154-1189).

According to the report, “the arrival of the Assize judges in a town was a very solemn occasion because the judges directly represented the power and authority of the Crown and could impose the death penalty which the Justices of the Peace who presided at the Quarter Sessions could not do.

As a result, an elaborate ceremony, which dates back to many centuries, was developed around their arrival. The judges were escorted from the borders of the county to the assize town where they made their entrance, led by the sheriff and the principal gentry of the county, who accompanied the judges to their lodgings (often one of the grander houses in the town).

The court session began with the judges in their ceremonial robes going off to the local parish church where the sheriff’s chaplain preached the assize sermon, which would often emphasize the wisdom of the laws and the rightfulness of the punishments about to be imposed.

In Jamaica today, the Supreme Court has a number of divisions. The Circuit Court is the division for criminal cases, holding sessions in the individual parishes. The court in Kingston is known as the Home Circuit.

Today’s observance will take place under the theme “Justice and Jubilee” in celebration of Jamaica’s 50th anniverary as an independent nation.

There will be worship through the arts, including a special choir, Lawyers in Praise, and a dance by members of the legal profession. An exhibition highlighting aspects of the justice system and the legal profession will be mounted in the church hall. Souvenir programmes will contain written greetings from the governor general, minister of justice, chief justice, Opposition spokesman on national security and justice, president of the Jamaican Bar Association, and the president of the Advocates’ Association. It will also contain a listing of some of the interesting legal milestones achieved over the past 50 years.

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