Government Switchboard

Tel: 441.295.5151

Franchise (2)  

Throughout most of Bermuda's History, the majority of Bermudians could not vote in General Elections, or run as Parliamentary candidates.  This was because only owners of property of a certain value and above had the right to vote and to offer themselves as election candidates.  For a very long period of time, these privileges were limited to male property owners only.

In 1834, when slavery was abolished in Bermuda and throughout the British colonies, the property value qualification was increased. Changes in the franchise were slow, but after a long, hard struggle, women were finally enfranchised in 1944.  Universal adult suffrage took longer.
The General Election of 1968 was the first election in Bermuda in which every one, twenty-one years old and over, could vote and in which the property vote did not play a role.  It was not until the General Election of 1993 that all persons aged eighteen years and over, were entitled to cast a vote.

Parliament History (2)  

In 2004, Bermuda's Parliament is 384 years old.  The first elected Assembly was convened in St. Peter's Church, St. George's on 1 August, 1620 and consisted of thirty-six members.  While Parliament had the authority to pass legislation and monitor and control the island's finances, the Governor had the authority to veto any law passed.
When the Capital of the island was moved from St. George's to Hamilton, Parliament followed and met in the Town Hall (the current site of Supreme Court No.3) from 1815 to 1826, when it moved to its present location.

Over the years, the Bermuda Parliament assumed more and more responsibility for governing the island.  The most dramatic change took place in 1968 with universal adult suffrage and a new Constitution.  As a result, the Bermuda Parliament was substantially strengthened and the elected government became almost totally responsible for running its affairs- although Bermuda remained a British colony.
The Bermuda Parliament is modeled on the Westminster system, with an Upper House and a Lower House- the Lower, being the elected House of Assembly and the Upper, the appointed Senate.

House of Assembly (2)  

Until the General Election of 2003, there were forty Members elected to the House of Assembly; representing the twenty dual-seat constituencies into which Bermuda's nine Parishes were divided.

As a result of a 2001 Order-in-Council and a subsequent 2002 Constitutional amendment, Bermuda now has thirty-six single seat constituencies, which closely approximate an equable voter distribution.

In Bermuda's last election, held on 24 July 2003, the Progressive Labour Party won a second term as Government, with a total of twenty-two seats in the House of Assembly compared with fourteen seats won by the United Bermuda Party.

The Premier, along with eleven other elected Progressive Labour Party members of Parliament, comprise the Cabinet, the Executive arm of government; which under the Westminster principle of collective responsibility, makes most of the major decisions on how the country is run.

Procedure (2)  

The Mace is the symbol of the Authority of the Speaker.  It is carried by the Sergeant-at-Arms when the Speaker enters the Chamber at the commencement of a sitting and again when the Speaker leaves.  While the Speaker is in the Chair, the Mace rests in brackets on the top of the Clerk's Table.
The Speaker keeps order by means of a gavel, made from the remains of a cedar tree which had grown in St. Peter's churchyard, the site of the first Parliament in 1620. 
In common with most legislative bodies, it is the practice of the House of Assembly to debate the detail of a measure in a Committee of the Whole House.  When this is agreed by the adoption of an appropriate motion, the Speaker leaves his chair, after having appointed a Chairman to preside over the Committee.  The Chairman takes a seat at the Clerk's Table in a chair provided immediately below the Speaker's Chair and on the Clerk's right.
When the Speaker leaves the Chair and the House is sitting in Committee of the Whole House, the Mace is removed from the top of the table and placed on brackets on the face of the table.  This is known as 'placing the Mace under the Table.' This is done to emphasize that the House, at these times, is not sitting in full session, but is in the Committee stage of its proceedings.  The Mace is also always carried in front of the Speaker in the procession from the House in response to the Governor's command at the convening of Parliament, and also on certain other ceremonial occasions.  The Mace was made in London by Garrard and Company in 1920 of silver gilt to commemorate the tercentenary of the institution of Parliamentary Government in Bermuda. Officers of the House
The Speaker of the House is chosen from among the elected Members of the House of Assembly.  The election of Speaker takes place during the first meeting of Parliament following a General election.  Once elected, the Speaker sheds all Party allegiance and conducts the meetings of the House impartially. The Deputy Speaker of the House is also chosen from among the elected Members of the House of Assembly.  This election also takes place during the first meeting of Parliament following a General Election.
The Clerk to the Legislature, together with two Assistant Clerks, is the Speaker's right hand and is responsible for ensuring that all procedural and administrative aspects of the Legislature run smoothly and efficiently.
The Sergeant at Arms sits between the public gallery and the members of the House of Assembly to ensure proper order at all times and is largely charged with seeing to the safety and security of members.  In addition, the Sergeant at Arms leads the opening procession with the Speaker, carrying the Mace, the Speaker's symbol of authority and is responsible for opening and closing the House of Assembly.

Sessions House (2)  

Standing on the highest eminence within the boundaries of the City of Hamilton, the Sessions House with its clock tower is the most conspicuous building on the city's skyline (although the Bermuda Cathedral's roof line and tower are higher).

The original building was a simple two-story edifice built about the year 1819.  Through the years there have been many additions to the original building.  The clock tower and Florentine façade were proposed in 1887 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria, but work started late and the alterations were not completed until 1893.

A medallion of the Queen's head, done in terra cotta, can be seen under an arch on the southern side.

The Bermuda Jubilee Clock has four dials, each seven feet in diameter, cast in one piece.  The hands are of copper, strengthened behind with brass.  The dials are faced with opal glass and the hands and figures are painted black.  The hours are struck on a bell weighing 1750 pounds and measuring four feet across the mouth.  The hammer is cast iron and weighs 35 pounds.  The wheels are gun metal.  The 6-foot pendulum weighs 90 pounds.  This clock, with its four faces illuminated by oil lamps, was put into operation for the first time on 31 December, 1891. 


The public entrance to the ground floor of the Sessions House is from the eastern end of the building.  The large chamber on the ground floor is currently home to Supreme Court Number One.  The appointments of the room are simple in keeping with the atmosphere of dignity commonly associated with British Courts of Justice.

Public access to the upper storey is gained through the southeastern tower and via a handsome oak staircase.  Inside the entrance, visitors are faced with two sculpted figures, carved by John Thomas, a Welsh stone mason, out of magnesium limestone in the 1840's.  The sculptures were part of the exterior decoration of the Palace of Westminster and were a gift to Bermuda from the Houses of Parliament at Westminster.

The figure on the left depicts King William II holding in his hand a model of Westminster Hall and the one on the right is an unidentified companion figure which adjoined that of King John.  The heraldic lion in the corner niche has the same origin.

At the top of the stairs, situated on the western wall is a portrait of Bermuda's first woman Parliamentarian, Mrs. Hilda Aitken, elected in 1948.  The portrait was unveiled by the Rt. Hon. Baroness Blatch, Minister of State for Education in the House of Lords, as part of the commemorative celebrations the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Woman's Suffrage Act, 1944.

To the left is the main entrance to the large upper storey chamber which is home to the house of Assembly.  The room, which was paneled in wood around 1890, is well-proportioned and of rectangular shape.  Inside the main door is the public gallery, with seating for visitors on either side of the aisle.  The front row on the right side is reserved for members of the media.