Attorney General's Department

Before Independence

The Attorney General was originally an ex-officio member of the Legislative Council.

When the constitutional system of Jamaica was reformed in 1944 the Attorney General retained his position as a member of the policy-making Executive Council, and this continued until 1957, when the Council of Ministers was established. During this time he remained     the sole nominated member of the Legislative Council, until the Legislative Council was altered in the Constitution granting internal   self-government in 1959.

There was an Attorney General’s Chambers (“the Chambers”) responsible for both civil and criminal proceedings, as well as giving general legal advice and advice on legislation. At that time, however, the Chambers did not work on international affairs, as before Independence, Jamaica had no responsibility for foreign affairs.

The members of the Chambers were barristers. There was a Crown Solicitor’s office, staffed primarily with solicitors. That office would prepare and file Court documents and instruct members of the Attorney General’s Chambers to appear as Counsel. The office also did land transfers, conveyancing matters and matters relating to permits.

In addition, before the creation of an Office of Parliamentary Counsel, the Chambers would be responsible for the drafting of legislation.

Independence

The appointment of the Attorney General was extensively discussed when the Independence Constitution was being drafted. The result     was that the Attorney General would be politically appointed, and      that he would be the principal legal adviser to the Government, while criminal proceedings would be vested in the newly constituted Office   of the Director of Public Prosecutions (“the DPP”), who would be a permanent public officer.

The Chambers was thus divested of responsibility for criminal prosecutions and the Office of the DPP was created in 1962. The     Office was the DPP was allocated staff from among the attorneys in the Chambers. The first DPP was Mr. William Swaby, who had been an Assistant Attorney General, while the first Attorney General on independence was Hon. Victor Grant, Q.C., a former member of the Attorney General’s Chambers. The DPP’s Office and the Chambers remained in the same building until 1976, when the Chambers moved   to the Mutual Life Building on Barry Street.

Fusion of the Profession

With the passage of the Legal Profession Act in 1972, the profession was fused and barristers and solicitors became attorneys-at-law, with   the same training and rights. The Crown Solicitor’s Office was   thereafter absorbed into the Chambers. The Crown Proceedings Act      in Section 14 required the indication of a prescribed officer, on whom documents were to be served. The Crown Solictor retained that title until 1979, when Len Tomlinson retired. Thereafter, the position of the Director of State Proceedings was created, in compliance with the requirements of the Crown Proceedings Act. Ms. Marjorie Harrison   was appointed as the first Director of State Proceedings in 1979. The second appointee to that post was Mr. Wentworth Coke.

The Divisions

In 1976 various functional divisions were created in the Chambers to create expertise in specific areas and to provide a framework for the more effective supervision and management of diversified subject matters falling within the province of the Attorney General. A  Ministry Paper was prepared and approved in relation to this restructuring of the Chambers. It is said that the intention was to allow attorneys to move from division to division to broaden their areas of expertise. The Chambers is now structured with the      following functional divisions:

  • Litigation;
  • Commercial Affairs and Industrial Relations;
  • International Affairs and Negotiations;
  • Constitutional Law, Legislation, Law Revision and Law Reform;
  • General Legal Advice; and
  • State Proceedings (formerly Crown Solicitor’s Department)

Upon Independence, Jamaica became responsible for its international relations. At first, international affairs were addressed by the    seconding of attorneys from the Chambers to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This system did not work well and was eventually   discontinued. International affairs are now addressed by the  International Law Division in the Chambers and attorneys at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

 

The historical examination of the Chambers reveals that traditionally it has been an excellent training ground for many Judges and attorneys, who have excelled at both the public and private bar. This tradition continues today.