Article 45 – The Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
By: Jenelle Fraser
Martin Anthony George & Co.
The Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is the key guiding principle; which encapsulates and enshrines the integral institutions and fundamental facets of the Nation of Trinidad and Tobago.
In spite of the fact that the Constitution is extensive in its scope, this article provides an overview of the main aspects of it, inclusive of insights which hopefully are concise, accurate and relevant.
The origin of the Constitution bears significant weight and paves the way for the understanding and appreciation of its significance and supremacy. In the year 1962, and by virtue of the Trinidad and Tobago Independence Act 1962; Trinidad and Tobago gained independence from British rule. In the year 1976, the Nation became a Republic; and the last Governor-General, Sir Ellis Clarke became the country’s first President.
In light of this transition, the 1962 Constitution is referred to as the ‘Independence Constitution’ and the reformed 1976 version of the Constitution was coined as the ‘Republic Constitution’. Albeit, Sir Ellis Clarke drafted what is regarded as the first written Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago.
Trinidad and Tobago’s independence birthed an obligation to implement a myriad of changes; inclusive of but not limited to a locally elected Cabinet, Prime Minister, symbols, emblems, Trinidad and Tobago currency and more so, a Constitution the guiding document and principle for a fledgling Nation.
The Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Constitution’) declares that the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is a sovereign state. In essence, this means that the governance, legal and political affairs of the Nation shall be free from all foreign interferences and external control. This sovereignty is undisputedly aligned with Supremacy and Section 2 of the Constitution states that ‘…any law that is inconsistent with this Constitution is void to the extent of inconsistency.’
The Constitution was last updated in 2016 and contains twelve (12) Chapters; The Recognition and Protection of Fundamental Human Rights and Freedom, Citizenship, The President, Parliament, Executive Powers, The Director of Public Prosecution and The Ombudsman, The Judicature, Finance, Appointments to and Tenure of Offices, Integrity Commission, The Salaries Review Commission and a Miscellaneous & General chapter.Nonetheless, this article shall only delve into key elements of these chapters.
THE RECOGNITION AND PROTECTION OF FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHTS
The first pillar of the Constitution recognizes the importance of perpetuating and protecting fundamental human rights and freedoms. Sections 4 and 5 of the Constitution protect the rights of the individual to life, liberty, security of the person amongst other things.
4. It is hereby recognised and declared that in Trinidad and
Tobago there have existed and shall continue to exist, without
discrimination by reason of race, origin, colour, religion or sex,
the following fundamental human rights and freedoms, namely:
(a) the right of the individual to life, liberty, security
of the person and enjoyment of property and the
right not to be deprived thereof except by due
process of law;
(b) the right of the individual to equality before the
law and the protection of the law;
(c) the right of the individual to respect for his
private and family life;
(d) the right of the individual to equality of
treatment from any public authority in the
exercise of any functions;
(e) the right to join political parties and to express
(f) the right of a parent or guardian to provide a
school of his own choice for the education of his
child or ward;
(g) freedom of movement;
(h) freedom of conscience and religious belief and
(i) freedom of thought and expression;
(j) freedom of association and assembly; and
(k) freedom of the press.
Section 5 (1) of the Constitution provides that the rights and freedoms declared in Section 4 are safeguarded from infringement, abridgement and abrogation. Nonetheless, there are exceptions for certain pieces of legislation. Section 13 (1), (2). Ultimately, the Constitution clearly states what the rights and freedoms of the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago are; and paves the way for those rights to be protected, save and except for specific, guided legislative circumstances.
Meriam-Webster dictionary defines a citizen as ‘a native or naturalized person who owes allegiance to a government and is entitled to protection from it’.
This element of the Constitution acknowledges citizens of Trinidad and Tobago; whether the citizenship was acquired by virtue of birth, registration or descent.
In accordance with Section 17 (1) of the Constitution, citizen by birth refers to ‘every person born in Trinidad and Tobago after the commencement of this Constitution….’
Citizen by registration was defined in Section 16 wherein it declares that ‘Any person who became a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago by virtue of registration under the former Constitution or by virtue of an acquisition of citizenship under Part II of the Trinidad and Tobago Citizenship Act, and who has not ceased to be a citizen under any law in force in Trinidad and Tobago, shall continue to be a citizen under this Constitution.’
Citizen by descent is defined in Section 17 (3) as ‘A person born outside Trinidad and Tobago after the commencement of this Constitution shall become a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago at the date of his birth if at that date either of his parents is, or was, but for his parent’s death, a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago otherwise than by descent, so however that, in the case of a person employed in service under the Government or under an authority of the Government that requires him to reside outside Trinidad and Tobago for the proper discharge of his functions, this subsection shall be read as if the words “otherwise than by descent” were deleted. ‘
Specific reference is made to retrospective citizenship in Section 17 (5) of the Constitution, wherein it states that ‘A person born outside Trinidad and Tobago after the 30th August, 1962 whose mother was a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago otherwise than by descent at the date of his birth but who did not become a citizen at that date shall be deemed to have become a citizen at that date and shall continue to be a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago under this Constitution.’
Section 17 also makes reference to Commonwealth Citizenship and highlights instances which can prevent an individual from gaining citizenship in Trinidad and Tobago.
Ultimately, citizenship in Trinidad and Tobago can be guaranteed by virtue of birth, registration or descent. However, there are instances where acquisition of citizenship in Trinidad and Tobago may be prohibited or denied.
The foregoing introduction made reference to the declaration of Trinidad and Tobago as a sovereign state and the Supremacy of the Constitution
Section 22 declares that ‘There shall be a President of Trinidad and Tobago elected in accordance with the provisions of this Chapter who shall be the Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.’
The qualifications to earn the privilege of being nominated and thereafter elected as President of Trinidad and Tobago is specific to age, citizenship and residency directly preceding the nomination. Once successful, Section 24 (1) provides particular conditions wherein it states that ‘Where a member of the Senate or the House of Representatives is elected as President, his seat in the Senate or the House of Representatives, respectively, shall thereupon become vacant’
The Constitution declares respective guidelines for assumption of office of the President, salary, allowances, the electoral process as well as mitigating circumstances which prevent a newly elected President from effectively performing his function. As it relates to the latter, Section 27 (2) declares that ‘Where the President of the Senate is for any reason unable to act as President under subsection (1) or section 36(2), the functions of President shall be performed by the Speaker. (3) Where the Speaker is for any reason unable to perform the functions of President under subsection (2), the Vice-President of the Senate shall perform those functions, so, however, that a meeting of the Electoral College shall be held… ‘
The office of the President of Trinidad and Tobago is quasi-ceremonial. The functions and duties attached to this office are by large, enshrined in Chapter 3 of the Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
Section 39 of the Constitution states ‘There shall be a Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago which shall consist of the President, the Senate and the House of Representatives.’
Section 40. (1) ‘The Senate shall consist of thirty-one members (in this Constitution referred to as “Senators”) who shall be appointed by the President in accordance with this section.’
Section 46. (1) ‘Subject to the provisions of this section, the House of Representatives shall consist of members who shall be elected in the manner provided by Parliament. (2) There shall be thirty-six members of the House of Representatives or such other number of members as corresponds with the number of constituencies as provided for by an Order made by the President under section 72.’
Section 73. (1) ‘The election of members of the House of Representatives shall be by secret ballot and in accordance with the first-past-the-post system.’
In Trinidad and Tobago, there are three (3) arms of government, namely the Executive, the Judiciary and the Legislature.
The Legislature by virtue of Section 39 comprises of the President, Senate and House of Representatives and is responsible for making laws for peace, order and good governance.
The Executive arm of government is responsible for the administration of laws.
The Judicial arm of government is responsible for statutory interpretation; and comprises of the Magistrate Courts, High Courts, Supreme Courts and CCJ/Privy Council.
In essence, the Legislative arm makes laws, the Executive arm administers laws and the Judicial arm interprets laws.
In conclusion, the Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago has evolved significantly over the years. There were six (6) reforms between the years 1945-1962; and the post-independence era paved the way for an even more strategic reform. Sir Ellis Clarke, the last Governor-General and first President of Trinidad and Tobago; served an instrumental role in the architecture of what is regarded as the first written constitution of Trinidad and Tobago in the year 1962. The Constitution declared that Trinidad and Tobago is a sovereign state and to date, it functions with a structured calibre of political leadership, regard for individual rights and freedom, protection of rights and freedoms and the supremacy of law. It is the Bible by which the citizens and leaders alike are guided.
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