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Working to ensure relations between nations remain 'criss': Commonwealth expert Maurice Dalton

4 January 2012
Protocol expert Mr Dalton talks to Commonwealth News about his time in Jamaica as a Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation expert

It has existed for over two thousand years and can make or break relationships between states and individuals.

It can govern the welcome reception and show of respect afforded to a head of state, the protection of state representatives travelling abroad, seating arrangements at ceremonies, and even the way a flag is flown.

Protocol – the set of rules guiding how countries should interact - ensures that the customary practices of states are respected, maintaining relations between nations. But they vary from one country to another and it is the understanding of these differences that is essential to good diplomacy.

Diplomatic protocol refers to the set of rules, procedures, conventions and ceremonies which relate to relations between states and their representatives.

State and international protocol focuses on the proper conduct of official relationships within a country and internationally.

"Criss" is a Jamaican term for okay.

Maurice Dalton has spent the last 10 years of his career in the British Diplomatic Service as a protocol specialist and subsequently as head of protocol at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, before becoming an independent consultant.

Having been responsible for the organisation of a number of international summit conferences, including the 1997 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Edinburgh, Scotland, and many visits by heads of state and other VIPs, he knows the importance that protocol’s well-established and time-honoured rules and customary practices can play in international relations.

Hence for the past year Mr Dalton, under the auspices of the Commonwealth Secretariat-managed Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation (CFTC) and following a request from the Jamaican Government, has been working in Jamaica to ensure their protocol procedures are fully documented and reflect best practice in other Commonwealth countries, and the wider international community.

“To an outsider protocol may not seem to be important, but for those involved it’s an enormous issue - it can prevent disputes and bring order out of chaos,” he said in an interview with Commonwealth News.

CFTC: Governments and regional organisations in the Commonwealth can request technical and advisory assistance from the Commonwealth Secretariat via the CFTC, which is resourced by voluntary contributions from Commonwealth member governments and overseas territories. Through the fund the Secretariat can either provide advice to a member state or deploy an external expert to the country.

“Protocol is often regarded as being of concern only to VIPs such as heads of state, government ministers and diplomats, but in fact protocol affects everyone in one way or another - we all wish to be correctly addressed, treated with dignity and respect and treated equally with our peers.”

For example, protocol ensures that ambassadors and their staff are treated well - wherever they are based in the world - by their host country, and that they also respect the local laws.

In Jamaica, Mr Dalton worked with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), Office of the Governor-General, Jamaica Defence Force, Airports Authority of Jamaica and the Jamaica Constabulary Force, among others, to train officials and prepare manuals on diplomatic, state and international protocol.

While preparing the manuals he participated in a number of national events including: Remembrance Sunday; the National Honours and Awards ceremony; the National Heroes Day ceremony; visits by heads of state; and the swearing in of a new Prime Minster, to record the arrangements for state and official ceremonies.

Now, thanks to the work of Mr Dalton and his Jamaican counterparts, government officials in the country have detailed manuals on diplomatic protocol and state and international protocol, which provide them with a catalogue of information on the processes for observing protocol and official events, ensuring that procedures and practices are maintained and respected.

“There are certain standards that have been accepted worldwide,” said Mr Dalton. “For example, heads of state and other senior VIPs visiting another country expect to be formally welcomed when they arrive otherwise they could take offence. VIPs have been known to cut short their visits because of this and then the host countries have to rebuild the relationships.

“If you get it right not too many people notice, but if you get it wrong everyone notices and then it’s a struggle to get things back on an even keel. Adhering to good protocol and good practice presents a good image of the country.”

Towards the end of his stay in Jamaica, Mr Dalton gave a presentation on protocol to a conference of presidents and governors-general of 10 Caribbean Commonwealth countries, and presented copies of the two manuals to them for use in their own countries, with the prospect of developing a regional Commonwealth approach to protocol.

Ambassador Elinor Sherlock, Chief of State Protocol at OPM in Jamaica, said: “The project has strengthened the system of diplomatic and state protocol in Jamaica as we now have elaborate guidance on issues which were in some instances left to the institutional memory of some of our practitioners.

“Jamaica remains profoundly grateful to the Commonwealth Secretariat for assisting us in this way and it has inspired me in my capacity of Chief of State Protocol in Jamaica to reach out to my colleagues in the region to see how we can share best practices in matters of protocol and explore further training possibilities.”

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