||The Department of the Serjeant-at-Arms
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.
The Serjeant-at-Arms is responsible for the overall security of the Parliamentary Estate and for ensuring that it is free from the risk of violence, accident, fire etc. He is assisted in his task by the Parliament Police division consisting of 235 officers.
The Sergeant-at-Arms also organizes explosive detection and fire fighting workshops and drills for the staff, from time to time in consultation with the relevant authorities.
Admission of Visitors
Admission of visitors to the Precincts of Parliament is controlled by the Serjeant-at-Arms. Visitors undergo security screening prior to entering and they must agree to abide by certain rules while in the galleries. Distinguished visitors are admitted to the Speakers Gallery and they are subjected to minimum security checks. The Public Officers have a special Box adjoining the Chamber where they are able to follow the proceedings of the House and assist the respective Ministers when necessary.
Members of the Media are accommodated in the gallery behind the seat of the Speaker. They are issued passes if they carry recommendations from the Director of the Department of Government Information.
Apart from these categories a large number of people, particularly school children, come to witness Parliament when it is in session as well as on non-session days.
Allocation of Accommodation
The Serjeant-at-Arms is responsible for the allocation of office rooms, committee rooms, interview rooms, facilities and their administration. If any Member wishes to have a committee room or an interview room, such a facility could be obtained from the Serjeant-at-Arms.
Supervision of Galleries
It is the duty of the Serjeant-at-Arms to ensure that persons entering the galleries are issued with passes, are properly dressed and conduct themselves with dignity. He should ensure that visitors refrain from disturbing proceedings and causing obstruction to the Members. He should also ensure that visitors do not loiter in unauthorized areas within the Parliamentary premises.
The Serjeant-at-Arms is a Member of the Association of Serjeants-at-Arms in the Commonwealth Parliaments and attends its sessions regularly in order to familiarize himself with modern developments in the management of Parliaments.
||M. Ismail, MBE
||1947 - 1961
||A. J. R. De Silva
||1961 - 1970
||1970 - 1996
||1996 - 2006
||Anil P. Samarasekara
||2006 - to date