Serjeant-at-Arms

Major Roles and Responsibilities of the Serjeant-at-Arms

Many of the contemporary roles of the Serjeant-at-Arms stem from the historical and traditional aspects of the office – the ceremonial, security and 'housekeeping' roles. However, the responsibilities have evolved over time and at present include a wide and varied range of responsibilities in keeping with the needs of the House of Representatives as a modern working organisation. While there has been an evolution of the role, the focus very much remains on the provision of advice and services to the Speaker and the provision of advice and services to Members.

Support for the Chamber of the House

The main Chamber responsibilities of the Serjeant during the sittings of the House relate to assisting the Speaker to maintain order and are laid down in the Standing Orders (or rules) of the House. The Serjeant and his or her staff are required to help the Speaker maintain order by removing disorderly people from the House or the public or press galleries. The Serjeant also controls admission to the galleries, maintains custody of the Members' attendance register, coordinates the allocation of seats to Members in the Chamber, and delivers messages (formal communications) from the House of Representatives to the Senate.

Other services provided by the Serjeant-at-Arms

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History

The name Serjeant-at-Arms derives from the latin serviens or servant.

In the United Kingdom in medieval times, monarchs used people who provided services like the provision of arrows, fodder and waiting upon the King at table who were called serjeanties. Later people who were permanently retained by the Sovereign became known more particularly as serjeants. These officers were required to be in immediate attendance on the Monarch's person to arrest traitors and other offenders. In medieval times:

The activities of the King's Serjeant-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.

By 1415, a specific officer was appointed 'AS SERJEANT-AT-ARMS FOR THE COMMONS' (Nicholas Maundit) to be attendant upon the House of Commons or the Speaker.

When Henry VIII left the Palace of Westminster, two Serjeants, though still officers of the court, continued to attend upon the Parliament - one serving the House of Lords and the other the House of Commons.

Today the Common's Serjeant is warranted to attend upon Her Majesty's person when there is no Parliament; and at-the time of every Parliament to attend upon the Speaker of the House of Commons.

In the Australian Parliament the Serjeant is a career officer of the Department of the House of Representatives.

The Serjeant's raison d'etre is the same in Australia as in the United Kingdom and

the classic explanation is that given by Chief Justice Lord Coleridge in 1884 when he pointed out that, "The Houses of Parliament cannot act by themselves in a body; they must act by officers; and the Serjeant-at Arms is the legal and recognised officer of the House of Commons (Representatives) to execute its orders."

The traditional responsibilities of the Serjeant as attendant upon the Speaker expanded more broadly to being attendant on the House. In the House of Commons, the role of the Serjeant extended to include being the Housekeeper for the Commons. The Serjeant in the House of Representatives has important responsibilities for Members' accommodation and furnishing.

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Ceremonial Occasions

The Serjeant-at-Arms is the custodian of the Mace, which is considered to be the symbol of the authority of the House and the Speaker. The Serjeant carries the Mace on his or her shoulder when leading the Speaker into the House each day and on ceremonial occasions involving the Speaker. Ceremonial occasions in which the Serjeant plays a prominent role include:
  • the opening of each session of the Parliament by the Governor-General;
  • conducting a newly elected Speaker to formally present himself or herself to the Governor-General; and
  • the procession of the Speaker and Members to Government House to present their Address-in-Reply to the Governor-General's speech on the opening of a new Parliament.

For formal ceremonies, the Serjeant-at-Arms wears regalia based on clothing worn in the old royal court in England. This comprises silver-buckled shoes, stockings, knee-breeches (or skirt), black cut-away coat with a large rosette on the back, waistcoat, stiff shirt front, butterfly collar and bow, white lace jabot and cuffs, white kid gloves, cocked hat (carried under left arm), and ceremonial sword. More recently an adaptation of this court regalia has been worn for some of the ceremonial occasions.

For normal sitting days, the Serjeant wears black trousers (or skirt) in place of the breeches and stockings, and the gloves, buckled shoes, cocked hat and sword are not used.

Robyn McClelland, Serjeant-at-Arms, during the opening of the 43rd Parliament

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