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Celebrating 125 years of history

changes at registration department highlight importance of institution to barbados

by Theresa Blackman

Some changes are not always welcomed or necessary, but in the case of the Registration Department, which recently celebrated its 125th anniversary, the changes that it has undergone throughout its existence have made it into one of the most important institutions in the country today.

To say that the Department has evolved over the years is certainly an understatement. In fact, the unit has gone through several notable transformations, from its location in the West Wing of the Public Buildings to its present site at the spacious and grandiose Supreme Court Complex at Whitepark Road.

The first Registration Office was established on June 6, 1667, with the mandate of registering the number of slaves in the territory. By 1819, the Office for the Registry of Colonial Slaves was established in London and copies of the slave registers kept by the colonies were sent to the local office in Barbados. And, interestingly at this time registration occurred once every three years, and continued to 1834, when slavery was officially abolished.

However, at a meeting of the House of Assembly on August 2, 1887, a Bill was passed which was known as The Registration Office Bill. This provided for all registration to be done in one location, where before it had been carried out at the Record Branch at the Colonial Secretary’s Department, the Prothonotary of the Court of Common Pleas, the Registrar of the Court Chancery, the Registrar of Solicitors, and the Clerk of the Crown and Peace.

The office was later renamed the Registration Department and was moved to the West Wing of the Public Buildings early in 1933. Later that year, it officially ‘opened its doors’ on August 2, at the old Water Works Building on Coleridge Street opposite Central Police Headquarters. It was headed by a registrar and a deputy registrar, who was appointed to execute the necessary duties when the registrar was attending the courts.

It was at this time that the registration of companies, land transfers, births, baptisms, marriages and burials were all transferred to this new location. However, over time, the site became inadequate, and a feasibility study was conducted, resulting in the recommendation that a new Registry be built.

So, in 1961, the Registration Department moved to Coleridge Street on the same compound of the Magistrates’ Court and the Supreme Court. And, with this move came further changes as the title of Registrar was changed from Registrar of the Court of Chancery to Registrar of the Supreme Court. The registrar had responsibility for the Court of Appeal Registry; the High Court Registry; the Magistrates’ Court and the Court Process Office.

Located at Whitepark Road, since October 2009, the department can boast of implementing a number of changes such as the setting up of an Internal Reform Committee in 1997 and the implementation of a Customer Charter in 2004, all with the aim of improving its productivity and fostering good internal and external customer relations; and with the view of expediting the processes involved in the registration of births, stillbirths, baptisms, marriages and death certificates.

Since 2001, the department has had the Electronic Document Records Management system which was designed to fully computerise all records making it easier for staff to access them.

And, according to Registrar of the Supreme Court, Marva Clarke, although the department has come full circle, and its accommodation has improved significantly, there are still other areas that need improving. She stated: “I would like to see the Judicial Enforcement Management System programme used more effectively, so that we are able to implement the rules more efficiently.

“We started this programme in October 2009, but due to a number of challenges, we haven’t been able to utilise it to its full potential. The JEMS programme is software used to drive the different procedural rules, however, the rules could operate without the programme,” she said.

And, as the department continues to evolve, the Registrar admitted that there is still need for further changes in order to take the office to another level and function more efficiently.

She pointed to the need for the enhancement of record keeping, more senior staff to assist with the processes, continual training and refresher courses at all levels, court transcription services extended to the Magistrates’ Court, and better accommodation in the Magistrates’ Court. The former Magistrate added that the St. Matthias Court was part of the pilot project that recently launched the payment of child maintenance by cheque, and it would be ideal if other Magistrates’ Courts followed suit.

In stating where she would like to see the department in the next five years, Clarke was quick to point out that it was her hope that persons would be pleased with the speedier administration of justice and that the department would encounter fewer complaints.

She also underscored the fact that it could not fulfill its role without the aid of the Court Process Office, which was responsible for deploying the marshals.

“Marshals have such an important role to play in the administration of justice, because if they don’t serve the summons or the document, then nothing could happen at the Court,” she stated.

Noting that the selection of jurors for the continuous sessions was also critical, the registrar explained that the department has an up-to-date database and once persons are between the ages of 18 and 65, they could be called to serve in this capacity.

So, as the department continues to celebrate this milestone and strive to maintain its high standards, there is the promise that it will continue on a path of excellence.

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