Jamaica has had a formal system of Local Government since 1662-1663 when the Vestry System was introduced by Governor Sir Thomas Modyford. This system was simular to the form of Local Government that existed in England. The vestry system consisted of ten (10) men and two (2) church wardens who were elected from the Lay Magistrate and the Clergy of the particular parish. They had the responsibility of maintaining public order and to collect taxes for the maintenance of the churches, the poor and destitute , roadways and bridges which existed at the time. The Vestry System lasted for 200 years and was abolished in 1866, following the Morant Bay Rebellion.
The Vestry System was replaced by the Municipal Board, the members of which were nominated by the Governor. With the introduction of Municipal Boards came a reduction in the number of parishes from twenty-two (22) to fourteen (14) Law 20 of 1867.
By 1886, the Municipal Boards were abolished by Law 16 of 1885 and the Parochial Boards (later re-named Parish Councils) implemented. The Parochial Boards consisted of persons who were elected from electoral districts in the Legislative Council, which included the Custos and elected Tax Payers.
During the twenty year period between the abolition of the Vestries and the establishment of the Parochial Boards, there were significant increases in the responsibilities of Local Governmenance.
Some of the functions that were extended to Local Authorities at the time included:
- Public Health in 1867
- Public markets in 1874
- Fire Service and Water Supply in 1875
- Building regulations,
- public beaches,
- Sanitation / public cleaning
- Street lighting .
Local Government is structured on a parish basis, the extension of the functions during the period 1866-86, and the creation of parochial boards in 1886, all created the modern Local Government system that presently exists.
Today, Parish Councils undertake their responsibilities through a Committee System. Each Council is required by law to have two (2) main Committees; Finance and Poor Relief. They can at their discretion establish other Committees. The standing Committee which is General Council holds delegated decision making powers while the others have the power to recommend.