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The Department of the Serjeant-at-Arms is one of the most important departments in the Parliament and has its origins in the history of the British Parliament. On gaining independence, Sri Lanka inherited the Parliamentary System based on Westminster traditions. It was then that the Department of the Serjeant-at-Arms was created within its distinctive functions that made it the second most significant office in Parliament; the first being the Office of the Secretary-General of Parliament.
The Serjeant-at-Arms is appointed by the Secretary General of Parliament, and in the performance of his duties he occupies a special place in the Chamber next to the main door. His functions include ceremonial duties, preservation of order, custody of the Mace, security, admission of visitors, allocation of accommodation within the House and supervision of galleries.
The Serjeant-at-Arms is the Master of Ceremonies in Parliament and is charged with the task of organizing its many ceremonial functions. The most significant function is the Ceremonial Opening of Parliament at a new Session. Welcoming Heads of State is also another major ceremonial occasion, and in the past, 7 Heads of State have addressed the Parliament of Sri Lanka.
The lying-in-state funeral ceremonies are also organized in the Parliamentary Complex by the Sergeant-at-Arms.
In the performance of his duties, the Serjeant-at-Arms is empowered to harness the support of any member of the staff of the Secretary-General of Parliament.
Preservation of Order
The Serjeant-at-Arms, under the direction of the Speaker, is charged with the task of maintaining discipline and preserving order among the Members of Parliament. He has to carry out orders by the House to suspend or remove Members from the Chamber and the precincts of Parliament for disobeying or disregarding the authority of the Chair, interrupting the proceedings of Parliament or repeatedly violating the Standing Orders.
The Serjeant-at-Arms may also be directed to probe into any matter where a Member of Parliament raises a complaint, and he is presumed to submit an impartial report.
The Speaker is the guardian of the privileges of the House, and the Serjeant-at-Arms is the chief enforcer, legally empowered to execute his orders.
The Serjeant-at-Arms is in charge of the Members' record of attendance, and decides on the seating plan in the House subject to the approval of Speaker. He is the only officer authorized to carry a weapon inside the Parliament building.
Custodian of the Mace
The ceremonial jeweled Mace, that symbolizes the authority of Parliament, is kept in the custody of the Serjeant-at-Arms. The Mace, when kept on the upper bracket of its stand in the Chamber signifies that the House is in session. The Serjeant-at-Arms bearing the Mace accompanies the Speaker when entering and leaving the Chamber. The Mace has to be legally brought into the House at the appointed time and removed at the end of the Session. Therefore unauthorized removal of the Mace cannot invalidate proceedings.
When the Speaker occupies the Chair, the Mace lies on the table with the crystal pointing towards the government benches. The Mace is not removed from the table during the suspension of the House. During the Committee Stage, the Serjeant-at-Arms has to place the Mace in the lower bracket of its stand.