Trinidad and Tobago Constitution
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What is the Constitution? (ACT No. 4 of 1976)

The constitution of the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago is the supreme or highest law of the land. It must be followed by the President, the Prime Minister, Ministers of Government, the Chief Justice, the judicial arm of the State, all State and public officials and all the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago. It sets out the structure and type of government we must follow and what powers they have. It makes sure that your rights are protected and sets up institutions to ensure that the government and other State officials do not abuse your rights.

All other laws in the country must follow the Constitution, but the constitution does not replace these laws. Instead, it sets out the standards, which they must follow. Think of it as the foundation of a house - all other laws are like the doors, walls, windows and roof. When you build a house, what it looks like will depend on what the foundations are. So too, all the other laws in the country depend on what the Constitution says.

The Constitution is also much harder to change than other laws. Parliament can usually change other written laws if more than 50% of the Members of parliament who are present support the change. This is called a simple majority.

The Constitution however, needs what is called a Special Majority in order for Parliament to change any of its provisions. Some important and fundamental parts of the Constitution, such as the Enshrined Rights, need a special majority of not less than two-thirds of all the members of each House of Parliament, in order for these to be changed in any way. Other provisions in the constitution are equally difficult to change, requiring different special majorities.

Because it is so difficult to change our Constitution, it means that governments have to follow its rules as well. These rules stay the same even if the government is changed. In that way the Constitution helps ensure our democratic way of life and the stability of our governmental institutions.

What is Democracy?

Democracy is one of the ways of governing a country. It is based on the idea that everyone in a country should have a say about how the country is run. But, because it is not possible for everyone to be in Parliament, people choose other people to represent them in Parliament and to make decisions for them. These people are chosen during an election when people vote for whom they believe can best represent them.

Where did the Constitution come from?

Our Constitution was enacted (or put into law) by Parliament on March 29, 1976 by Act No. 4 of 1976 and took effect on August 1, 1976. It is sometimes called the Republican Constitution because it transformed us from an Independent Nation with Queen Elizabeth II as our Head of State to a Republic, with a President as our Head of State.

Between the time of Independence in 1962 to when the Republican Constitution was put into effect, we had another Constitution called the Independence Constitution, which was Trinidad and Tobago's first written Constitution.

Why is the Constitution so important?

As citizens of Trinidad and Tobago we sometimes take for granted our democratic way of life and the stability and order of our national institutions. Some other countries had to struggle, and some are still fighting, for what we have enjoyed for many years.

It is important for all of us to appreciate that our constitution sets the structure for our democratic nation and ensures that its fundamental rules are followed by citizens and government alike. It is the basis for what is sometimes called THE RULE OF LAW, where everyone follows established and recognized rules rather than yielding to arbitrary or irrational actions and decisions. If there were no Rule of Law there would be anarchy and confusion.



This is the Introduction to the Constitution, and it sets out the basic principles upon which our nation was built. Here is the Preamble as it is set out at the start of the Constitution:

Whereas the People of Trinidad and Tobago -

  • have affirmed that the Nation of Trinidad and Tobago is founded upon principles that acknowledge the supremacy of God, faith in fundamental human rights and freedoms, the position of the family in a society of free men and free institutions, the dignity of the human person and the equal and inalienable rights with which all members of the human family are endowed by their creator;
  • respect the principles of social justice and therefore believe that the operation of the economic system should result in the material resources of the community being so distributed as to subserve the common good, that there should be adequate means of livelihood for all, that labour should not be exploited or forced by economic necessity to operate in inhumane conditions but that there should be opportunity for advancement on the basis of recognition of merit, ability and integrity;
  • have asserted their belief in a democratic society in which all persons may, to the extent of their capacity, play some part in the institutions of the national life and thus develop and maintain due respect for lawfully constituted authority;
  • recognize that men and institutions remain free only when freedom is founded upon respect for moral and spiritual values and the rule of law;
  • desire that their Constitution should enshrine the above-mentioned principles and beliefs and make provision for ensuring the protection in Trinidad and Tobago of fundamental human rights and freedoms.

The rest of the Constitution is divided up into Chapters dealing with different areas. Here is a brief look at each:


This formally establishes the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago as a democratic State and declares that the Constitution is the Supreme Law of our country.

Chapter 1


This Chapter sets out in detail the Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms that must be observed in Trinidad and Tobago.

Chapter 2


This Chapter deals with Citizenship and who is, or can become a citizen.

Chapter 3


This Chapter establishes the office of President of the Republic and says that he shall be Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of its armed forces. It sets out the qualifications of those who can be appointed President, how he is to be elected, the length of his term of office and how he may be removed from office.

Chapter 4


The legislature is elected by the voters in elections. The legislature is the branch of government that writes new laws, changes any laws that need to be changed and scraps old laws which are no longer needed.

Chapter 5


The executive, chosen from the persons in the legislature, put the laws written by the legislature into action. They must follow the laws written by the legislature and have to account to the legislature for what they do. In this way, they are controlled by the legislature.

Chapter 6


This Chapter establishes these offices and makes provision for their appointment, term of office and their functions and duties.

Chapter 7


The judges and magistrates decide what the laws mean. They are independent and must make sure that the laws are followed by everyone - including the government.

Chapter 8


This Chapter deals with Finance. It establishes a Consolidated Fund and a Contingencies Fund. It provides for the appointment of an Auditor General and specifies his reporting duties.

Chapter 9


This Chapter establishes the Public Service Commission, the Police Service Commission and the Teaching Service Commission. Each is set up as an independent Commission and is given the power to appoint, promote and discipline persons under their charge.

Chapter 10


This Chapter establishes an Integrity Commission charged with the duty of receiving declarations in writing of the assets, liabilities and incomes of a special group of Public Officers, namely: Members of the House of Representatives, Ministers of Government, Parliamentary Secretaries, Permanent Secretaries and Technical Officers.

Chapter 11


This Chapter sets up an independent Salaries Review Commission whose function is to review with the approval of the president the salaries and other conditions of service of certain holders of public office, among them the President, the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice, Judges, Ministers of Government and Members of Parliament.

Chapter 12


Here is laid down the procedure for tendering resignations from certain public offices established under the Constitution, and other connected matters.



To protect democracy and prevent abuse of power the Constitution at section 4 continues to recognize, as it did in the Independence Constitution, that in Trinidad and Tobago there have existed and shall continue to exist without discrimination by reason of race, origin, colour, religion or sex these human rights and fundamental freedoms, enjoyed by each individual:

  • The right to life, liberty, security of the person and enjoyment of property. These cannot be taken away by the State except by due process of law.
  • The right to equality before the law and the protection of the law.
  • The right to respect for an individual's private and family life.
  • The right to equality of treatment from any public authority in the exercise of any functions.
  • The right to join political parties and to express political views.
  • The right of a parent or guardian to provide a school of his own choice for the education of his child or ward.
  • Freedom of movement.
  • Freedom of conscience and religious belief and observance.
  • Freedom of thought and expression.
  • Freedom of association and assembly.

These rights set out very broad principles and it is up to the Courts as Guardians of the Constitution to interpret these principles and apply them to many different situations.

You must remember that these rights, as broad principles, can be and in some cases are limited by law - be it written law or by judicial decisions.

The 'bare' right of freedom of expression does not give the press, or anyone for that matter, the authority to lawfully defame another person's character, or expose any other person to shame or ridicule. This is an example of where this right has been limited by the laws governing slander and libel.

Understand that rights are necessary for preserving your liberty and equality. In a truly free society everyone has rights, but these must be limited for if everyone were to enforce their rights against each other at the same time, the very freedom that we take for granted will disappear.

Rights can also be suspended or taken away for a short time during a State of Emergency. The government can only call a State of Emergency when:

  • The security of the country is threatened by war.
  • There is a public emergency as a result of an earthquake, hurricane, flood, fire, and outbreak of pestilence, infectious disease or other calamity.
  • If public safety is endangered or about to be endangered, or a large part of the community is deprived of supplies or services essential to life.

The Constitution provides that any person who alleges that any of his rights, as stated, have been, or is likely to be infringed can, by way of a specified procedure, go before the High Court to enforce those rights.

The Constitution, by setting out these fundamental human rights and freedoms and providing a way by which they are to be determined and enforced, protects the people from any abuse of power by the State.

In Part 3 we will look at the State, and how the Constitution lays down the rules upon which the State of Trinidad and Tobago is built.



The Constitution in its very first section sets out that:

"The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago shall be a

Sovereign Democratic State"

Our Constitution has been set out to divide the government into what is known as the three arms of the State, these are:


Each arm has a different job to do and each has the power to do certain things only. This is so because each arm is able to check on the other to ensure that none abuse their power. This is called the SEPARATION OF POWERS.


Parliament is charged with the responsibility for making laws for the peace, order and good government of Trinidad and Tobago. These laws must be subject to the Constitution.

Parliament is really composed of three parts:

  • The President
  • The House of Representatives (sometimes called the Lower House)
  • The Senate (sometimes called the Upper House)

The President plays an important role in signing the laws that are passed in Parliament. By doing so he enacts or puts them into legal force.

THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES is made up of 36 elected members and a Speaker, who may or may not be a member of the House. The Speaker presides over the proceedings of the House in the way a Chairman does over a meeting.

THE SENATE is made up of 31 Senators, who are not elected, but appointed as follows:

  • 16 selected by the Prime Minister (Government Senators)
  • 6 by the Leader of the Opposition (Opposition Senators)
  • 9 by the President (Independent Senators)

They put the laws passed by parliament into action. They include Cabinet, Ministries and Departments of government, statutory authorities and governmental institutions.


This arm of the State deals with disputes between persons, enforcement of the Criminal laws and the interpretation of the laws passed by Parliament (including the Constitution).

Members of the Judiciary (the Judges) are independent of the Executive, and their appointment and terms and conditions of office are dealt with by an independent commission set up under the Constitution (the Judicial and Legal Service Commission). In this way they are insulated from any outside pressure and can make free, fair and objective decisions.

This consists of a Supreme Court made up of:

  • The High Court, and
  • The Court of Appeal

The court of Appeal hears appeals from the High court, Magistrates' Courts and other Tribunals.

In certain cases there is a right of appeal from the court of Appeal to the Judicial Committee of Her Majesty's Privy Council (the Privy Council) in England.


The constitution provides that with the exception of when Trinidad & Tobago is at war, Parliament shall continue for five years from the date of its first sitting unless it is dissolved sooner. It also says that elections for Members of the House of Representatives shall be by secret ballot and in accordance with the first-past-the-post system (i.e. the arty winning the majority of seats in the House of Representatives forms the next government).




National Public Service Week

November 9-15, 1997


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