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
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
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
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
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.
AN OVERVIEW OF OUR CONSTITUTION
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
- 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
- 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.
- RECOGNITION AND PROTECTION OF FUNDAMENTAL
HUMAN RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS
This Chapter sets out in detail the Fundamental Human
Rights and Freedoms that must be observed in Trinidad and Tobago.
This Chapter deals with Citizenship and who is, or can
become a citizen.
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.
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
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.
- THE DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC PROSECUTIONS
(D.P.P.) AND THE OMBUDSMAN
This Chapter establishes these offices and makes provision
for their appointment, term of office and their functions and duties.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- THE SALARIES REVIEW COMMISSION
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.
- MISCELLANEOUS AND GENERAL
Here is laid down the procedure for tendering resignations
from certain public offices established under the Constitution, and other
WHAT ARE YOUR RIGHTS?
- THE ENSHRINED RIGHTS
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 conscience and religious
belief and observance.
- Freedom of thought and expression.
- Freedom of association and assembly.
- HOW ARE THESE RIGHTS ENJOYED?
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
|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
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.
- ENFORCING THESE RIGHTS
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
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.
SAFEGUARDING OUR DEMOCRACY
- THE STATE AND SEPARATION OF POWERS
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:
- THE LEGISLATURE (PARLIAMENT)
- THE EXECUTIVE
- THE JUDICIARY
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.
- THE LEGISLATURE (PARLIAMENT)
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
The President plays an important role in signing the laws
that are passed in Parliament. By doing so he enacts or puts them into
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
- 6 by the Leader of the Opposition
- 9 by the President (Independent
- THE EXECUTIVE
They put the laws passed by parliament into action. They
include Cabinet, Ministries and Departments of government, statutory authorities
and governmental institutions.
- THE JUDICIARY
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).
THE MINISTRY OF THE ATTORNEY
OF TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO.
National Public Service Week
November 9-15, 1997
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