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Constitutional Reform in Trinidad and Tobago

Richard Albert, Boston College Law School

Trinidad & Tobago has been engaged in a long and often interrupted process of constitutional renewal since adopting its Constitution in 1976. Calls for constitutional renewal appear to have grown loudest starting about ten years ago when a new Constitution was proposed in the House of Representatives in 2006. Another effort followed in 2009, with a new working document on constitutional reform. Both of those efforts stalled.

Soon afterwards, constitutional reform became a subject of debate in the 2010 general elections. As part of its many pledges during the electoral campaign, the People’s Partnership committed to “establish a Constitution Commission to engage in the widest possible consultation as a pre-requisite to constitutional reform.” That pledge became reality when the People’s Partnership took office and created the Constitutional Reform Commission, which launched the National Consultation on Constitutional Reform, chaired by the Minister of Legal Affairs.

The Commission released its report a few months ago in December 2013.

Some noteworthy recommendations for constitutional change include:

  1. The Preamble should retain its reference to God but also be respectful of non-adherents, and it should entrench an aspirational statement about environmental protection.
  2. Before choosing or not to entrench non-discrimination protection for sexual orientation, there should be “further national discussion and public education” on the issue.
  3. The Senate should be elected by proportional representation.
  4. The House of Representatives and the Senate should have equal powers.
  5. Members of the House of Representatives should not be eligible for ministerial appointment, and should be subject to recall after three years into their term but not during the fifth and final year of their electoral term.
  6. There should be fixed dates for general elections.
  7. The Constitution should recognize local governments.
  8. The Auditor-General should be authorized to conduct audits into government expenditures.
  9. Whether to accede to the appellate jurisdiction of the Caribbean Court of Justice should be settled in a national referendum.

Many observers have expressed doubts about the Commission’s report, suggesting that it is another missed opportunity at meaningful constitutional reform and also that it fails to give sufficient attention to the status of Tobago.

It is unclear whether Trinidad & Tobago will finally get its new Constitution, both because there remain deep divisions on the conclusions in the Commission’s report and because time may soon run out on political actors efforting toward constitutional renewal—a general election is expected next year in 2015.

Suggested Citation: Richard Albert, Constitutional Reform in Trinidad and Tobago, Int’l J. Const. L. Blog, May 2, 2014, available at: http://www.iconnectblog.com/2014/05/constitutional-reform-in-trinidad-and-tobago

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Published on May 2, 2014
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