Black Rod

The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, generally shortened to just Black Rod, is an official of a figure in the parliaments of a number of Commonwealth countries. The position originates in the House of Lords of the British Parliament where they represented the Sovereign and as Serjeant-at-Arms, and also of the Lord Chamberlain's Department. The title is derived from his staff of office, an ebony staff topped with a golden lion, which is the main symbol of the office's authority. His equivalent in the House of Commons is the Serjeant-at-Arms.

The present Black Rod in the United Kingdom is Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Willcocks. His deputy is the Yeoman Usher of the Black Rod. The present Black Rod for Canada is Lieutenant-Commander Terrance Christopher. Each Canadian province has its own Black Rod, despite only having one chamber. The Black Rod is thus only used on visits from the Lieutenant Governors. Each Australian state, with the exception of Queensland, also has its own Black Rod. The Australian Senate has Ms Andrea Griffiths as Usher of the Black Rod and Ms Helen Donaldson as Deputy Usher of the Black Rod.

In the United Kingdom the office was created in 1350 by royal letters patent, though the current title dates from 1522. The position was adopted by other members of the Commonwealth when they copied the British Westminster system. Black Rod is formally appointed by the Crown based on a recruitment search performed by the Clerk of the Parliaments, to whom he reports. In the United Kingdom Black Rod has a number of official duties: he is the personal attendant of the Sovereign in the Lords; as secretary to the Lord Great Chamberlain is responsible as the usher and doorkeeper at meetings of the Order of the Garter (stemming from the Garter Statute 1522); and, as the Serjeant-at-Arms and Keeper of the Doors of the House, he is responsible for maintaining order in the chamber, including the admission of strangers to the House, and for carrying the Mace into and out of the chamber for the Lord Chancellor as Speaker of the House of Lords, though this last role is delegated to the Yeoman Usher and Deputy Serjeant-at-Arms. The Lord Chancellor's deputy, the Assistant Serjeant-at-Arms, carries the Mace on judicial occasions, however. Most of these duties are retained in Canada.

Black Rod further has the task of arresting any Lord or Senator guilty of breach of privilege or other Parliamentary offence, such as contempt or disorder, or the disturbance of the House's proceedings. In the United Kingdom he is also responsible, as the representative of the Administration and Works Committee, for maintaining the buildings, services, and security of the Palace of Westminster. Either Black Rod or his deputy, the Yeoman Usher, is required to be present when the House of Lords or Senate is in session. In the United Kingdom they play a role in the induction of all new Lords Temporal into the House (that is, they do not take part in the introduction of bishops as new Lords Spiritual). In Canada they are present for the induction of all Senators.

Currently, Black Rod is most prominent for his part in the ceremonies surrounding the State Opening of Parliament and the Throne speech. He summons the Commons to attend the speech and leads them to the Lords or Senate. As part of the ritual, as Black Rod approaches the doors to the chamber of the House of Commons to make his summons, they are closed in his face. Black Rod then strikes three times with his staff, and in reply to the challenge "Who is there?" answers "Black Rod". He is then admitted and issues the summons of the monarch to attend. This ritual is derived from the attempt by Charles I of England to arrest five members in 1642, a breach of privilege; the doors were closed on him, and the House of Commons has continued to maintain its right to bar the monarch's representative.

External link

The Canadian Parliament's information about Black Rod (

The Australian Commonwealth Parliament's information about Black Rod (


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