Pace International Law Review will hold a symposium entitled Comparative Constitutional Law: National Security Across the Globe. The symposium is scheduled to be held in November of 2009 as an all day event with multiple panelists and guest speakers. The editors of Pace International Law Review invite proposals for articles, essays and book reviews from scholars, researchers, practitioners, and professionals for contributions to be considered for presentation at the symposium and subsequent publication on our newly developed and comprehensive International Law Website.
What presumably is the last decision, ever, of the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords, was issued on 30 July. The jurisdiction of the Committee (and more) will be exercised from October 2009 by the new Supreme Court for the United Kingdom, sitting in the historic Middlesex Guildhall in Parliament Square, London.
Purdy, R (on the application of) v Director of Public Prosecutions  UKHL 45 is a fitting finale to the work of the House of Lords, balancing judicial restraint with an application of the Human Rights Act in a manner that was both subtle and sensitive. The plaintiff suffered from severe and progressive multiple sclerosis. In due course, she wanted the option of ending her life, preferably with assistance from her husband, if that could be done without exposing him to prosecution. In England itself, the Suicide Act 1961 made it an offence to aid the suicide of another: s.2(1). Ms Purdy proposed to end her life in Switzerland, where assisted suicide is lawful. But it was unclear whether the British legislation would apply in any event, and how any discretion to prosecute would be exercised.
The case therefore involved two questions. The first was whether s.2(1) applied to an act of assisted suicide that began in England but ended in Switzerland. The second was the impact of the protection of ‘private life’ under the ECHR on the requirement for the DPP to consent to a prosecution under s.2(1). The case was resolved on the latter ground. Following the Strasbourg court in Pretty, the House held that the manner of dying is itself an act of life, that the Convention protection was attracted and that the right could be affected only in accordance with ‘law’. While the DPP had general prosecutorial guidelines, they were not sufficiently precise, in their application to this form of prosecution, to satisfy the requirements of legality under the Convention, so as to enable a person to ‘regulate his conduct without breaking the law’. It followed that the DPP must publish an ‘offence-specific’ policy on the circumstances in which prosecution is likely to be initiated, so as to enable Ms Purdy to make an informed decision.
The meaning of s.2(1) was not finally settled. It was not necessary to do so; and in any event, this case exposed difficulties in the application of the section, which were not fully canvassed in argument. But the case provides a vignette of the link between the House of Lords as a legislative and as a judicial body, which is now gone. As Baroness Hale noted, as the Law Lords moved to decision, the House of Lords as a legislative body was debating legislation that might have resolved the case, by limiting the offence of assisted suicide. The proposed legislation failed, in the face of arguments that suggested that the matter was better left to the discretion of prosecuting authorities. These events were mentioned in several Opinions in passing, as relevant both to a decision not to interpret the Suicide Act in a way that would, in effect, change the law and to the final decision of the House to require greater transparency from the DPP.
By way of a postscript: note the article on ‘Farewell to the Law Lords’ in The Times on 30 July, by David Pannick QC. It traces the development of the Appellate Committee from 1824, when cases were heard by lay peers on a ‘daily rota’, to the appointment of professional Law Lords in 1876, to the (almost) final abdication of an active legislative role by the Law Lords in 2005. The House of Lords offers a stunning example of institutional evolution over a long period of time. It will be interesting to see how the British constitutional system adapts to the transition to a Supreme Court under a version of separation of powers, through what by contrast is a short sharp shock.
A very interesting symposium issue of the Texas Law Review (June 2009) has just been published. It deals with the theory and practice of constitutional engineering and is aptly entitled “What, if anything, do we know about constitutional design?” The symposium issue includes fourteen articles by such luminaries as Sanford Levinson, Mark Tushnet, John Ferejohn, Bill Eskridge, Peter Ordeshook, and Walter Murphy; fascinating insights from a variety of settings, from Japan (by our fellow blogger David Law) to Iraq and Burma (Myanmar); and, to the extent that it is a testament to the symposium’s high quality, articles by several other contributors to this blog (David Fontana on the founding moments of American separation of powers model; Zachary Elkins & Tom Ginsburg on constitutional courts’ ancillary powers, and yours truly on success and failure in constitutional and other modernist “design sciences”). Alongside Constitutional Design for Divided Societies: Integration of Accommodation? (Sujit Choudhry ed., Oxford University Press, 2008), this collection seems one of the more significant current treatments of the theory and practice, promise and pitfalls of constitutional design. What is my take-home message from the symposium? As American graphic designer Paul Rand once said, “Design can be art. Design can be aesthetics. Design is so simple, that’s why it is so complicated.”
The Constitution of Tonga, 132 years old in 2007 — indeed one of the world’s oldest extant constitutions — has recently, for the first time in history, been subjected to significant scrutiny by the people who live under it. The review process has also canvassed the views of the thousands of Tongans who live in the diasporas of New Zealand, Australia and the USA. However, in the context of an increasingly polarised political debate, the translation of the outcome of that process into constitutional change is proving a difficult task for Tonga’s leaders, and the two years that have elapsed since the general elections of March 2005 have been among the most momentous in history.This paper attempts to stand back from the trauma and hurt of recent events and to ask some underlying questions. How is it that the Pacific region is home to a monarchical system that still rules its people, and what has been the secret of its success? What are the changes to the political structure that are already occuring this century? FInally, what order of change is int the air — will it be constitutional reform on a major scale?While considering these questions, this paper also offers a Political Chronology in its Appendix, as a summary of the events through the 1990s and early 2000s which culminated in the formal process of constitutional reform and the current scene. These years have witnessed diverse developments on the Tongan political stage, which, when considered against the backdrop of conservative society, must be regarded as remarkable.
The constitutional text in a constitutional democracy does not necessarily constrain constitutional change. Quite the contrary, constitutional change in a constitutional democracy often occurs in ways that depart from the rigid procedures governing constitutional amendment enshrined in the text of the constitution. In this article, I illuminate this peculiar phenomenon in comparative perspective, drawing from the constitutional traditions of Canada, Germany, India, South Africa and the United States. In addition to illuminating distinctions in the amendment practices of liberal democratic constitutional states, I deploy those contrasts as a springboard to substantive insights about fundamental principles of statehood, namely sovereignty and legitimacy.
In light of the current crisis of Honduras, Chile’s constitutional plight represents an interesting, contrasting case.
While in Honduras the crisis started when the sitting President tried to bypass the Constitution’s prohibition against amendments aimed at allowing his own reelection, in Chile, a dictatorial regime managed to perpetuate important features of the military regime through the imposition of a Constitution which has only been reformed when both former opponents of the dictatorship and the political ‘inheritors’ of it have concluded an agreement.
Due to this dynamic, Chile’s Constitution of 1980 still exhibits important democratic deficits (most prominently, a ideologically ladden Bill of Rights and the requirement of a quorum of 4/7 of the actual members of Congres to ammend or derogate the most important legislation passed by Augusto Pinochet’s regime, the so-called ‘Leyes Orgánicas Constitucionales).
Given the illegitimate restraints on democratic self-government that the Constitution of 1980 imposes on Chile’s current democratic era, over the last years there have been repeated calls for the introduction of a new Constitution, notably by former President Eduardo Frei (who led the country between 1994 and 2000, and who is now running again for the presidential election of December, 2009).
The problem, however, is that the very Constitution of 1980 that many Chileans want to substitute for a more democratic one, forbids the executive or the legislative branches to call for a referendum aimed at asking the people if they want a New Constitution. Furthermore, the rules governing the ammendment of the Constitution (2/3 of actual members of Congress for the most important subject matters) make any constitutional ammendment not favored by the political inheritors of the dictatorship impossible. This has been the case with many democracy-enhancing ammendments which would have damage the privileged political position enjoyed by the latter.
In this context, the following question arises: How can a democratic polity deal with the anti-democratic constitutional legacy of an authoritarian regime without risking a huge constitutional crisis?
All eyes will be on Niger this Tuesday as President Mamadou Tandja goes ahead with a referendum to allow himself to rule for three more years after completing his constitutional mandate of two terms this December. Recall that when the Constitutional Court ruled his proposal unconstitutional earlier this summer, Tandja assumed emergency powers and disbanded parliament as well as the constitutional court. Given his tactics to date, it seems unlikely Tandja will allow himself to lose.
The international community has been fairly critical. France and the African Union have called on Tandja to abandon his plans. The EU has frozen aid, and ECOWAS is threatening sanctions. (With typical moral clarity, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has called for restraint and non-violence by all sides on election day.)
Here is a hypothetical. Suppose the military were to step in on Monday to prevent Tandja from going ahead with his referendum. Suppose further that the military then promptly installs a civilian as interim president and calls for new elections. What would be the reaction of the international community? Probably a great sense of relief. It is certainly hard to imagine calls for the return of Tandja to power. But how, precisely, is this hypo different from what happened in Honduras in late June?
President Zelaya, in my reading, did violate the terms of the Honduran constitution, which states fairly clearly that proposals for extension of a term result in immediate loss of office for the proposer. In contrast, nothing in Niger’s Constitution prevents the president from disbanding parliament, so long as elections are called within three months (and they will be held later in August). The president has authority to declare a state of exception and to call referenda. To be sure, the constitutional court is inviolable, and so Tandja has clearly violated the terms of the constitutional text, as well as its spirit, in disbanding the court. But I suspect this alone is not the source of the very different reactions of the international community to the two situations. Honduran President Zelaya is a Chavezista in a region with an extensive history of US-supported military coups. The Obama administration needs to demonstrate a new approach to the region. So the politics matter, and matter a good deal.
Perhaps I am wrong and the anti-coup principle would be evenly applied in Honduras and Niger. This would, in my view, encourage further extensions of the executive term. Without threat of punishment by the military, more executives will seek to hang on to power. Term limits become simply the opening bid in a game wherein the constitution can be manipulated by incumbents to allow themselves to retain office. De facto life-term presidents may be the lesser of two evils, but they may not be. We might alternatively recognize that there may be some circumstances in which a bloodless coup is the least bad alternative. The issue comes down to this: does the military have any legitimate role in constitutional enforcement?
First off, these are no doubt good times for the comparative study of constitutions. A blog devoted to comparative constitutional law and courts would have been a near-fantasy merely a decade ago. More than anything else, its establishment reflects the growing interest and tremendous advancement in the comparative study of law and courts over the last few years.
My “landmark decision of the week” title goes to the Supreme Court of Pakistan, which ruled on Friday, July 31 that the state of emergency imposed by former President Pervez Musharraf in 2007 was unconstitutional and declared invalid the appointments of judges he made during that period. The ruling was hardly surprising; the 14-member bench that delivered the decision was headed by the reinstated Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, whose attempted ouster by Musharraf spurred much of the unrest that led to the Musharraf’s downfall. The ruling is filled with acclaim for judicial independence, democracy, and other such great ideals. “The constitution is supreme, and this decision will strengthen democracy and democratic institutions,” Chaudhry wrote in his decision. That the reinstated CJ Chaudhry presided over the Court that decides the legitimacy of his own ousting was not considered by the Court as an obstacle to rendering an unbiased ruling. The decision questions the legitimacy of the former CJ Abdul Hameed Dogar’s appointment as Chief Justice following the attempted ousting of CJ Chaudhry. The court added that rulings made by the judges who were improperly appointed could still stand, and told Parliament to decide which of the laws that Musharraf pushed through during the unconstitutional emergency could remain on the books. Musharraf (who resides in
It is important to note that since 1990 Pakistan has known several major regime changes and the Pakistan Supreme Court has played a key role in each of these radical transitions. The Court’s handling of politically charged cases over the last two decades provides a paradigmatic illustration of the strategic approach to judicial behavior. In May 2000, for example, it drew upon the doctrine of “state necessity” and the principle of salus populi suprema lex to unanimously validate the October 1999 the Musharraf-lead coup d’etat and ousting of PM Nawaz Sharif as having been necessary to spare the country from chaos and bankruptcy.
And there is another interesting aspect to the ruling. One contested measure that could come up for review is an ordinance – signed by Musharraf before the emergency – that granted amnesty in serious corruption cases to Zardari and his wife, the late former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. (The corruption charges relate to Bhutto’s era as prime-minister). This possibility plays to the hands of Nawaz Sharif (leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-N party) – the main political rival of Zardari (leader of the
In the last four months, at least one hundred judicial employees and close to fifty judges from all Venezuelan regions have been fired, suspended, or have suddenly resigned. Unionized judicial workers sounded the alarm on July 13th because the special Judicial Commission set up by Supreme Justice Tribunal (TSJ) to carry on this job, have not even informed most of those affected of the reasons of its decisions.
This last week, two more news gave a new dimension to the work of the Judicial Commission. The first is that one of the suspended judges said she was pressured by a superior to prohibit the head of a television channel, which is openly critic to the government, from leaving the country and was dismissed after she refused to do so. According to media reports, prosecutors have accused the head of the channel of usury and conspiracy to commit a crime – accusations stemming from the recent seizure of 24 new vehicles on his property. The TV executive denies any wrongdoing, saying the accusations are politically motivated, and that President Hugo Chavez is using prosecutors and judges to bring trumped-up charges against prominent opponents.
The second is that a few days ago the Venezuelan Attorney General submitted to the National Assembly, in which President Chavez enjoys more than a majority, a legislative proposal that according to most observers unduly limits freedom of expression. The legislative proposal, among other things, typifies as “media crimes”, to be sanctioned with fines and different prison terms, any activity that puts in risk “social peace, the security and independence of the nation, the public moral and public order”. The legislative proposal also punishes “the publication of false information” and publications that put in danger “the interests of the state”.
Unfortunately, allegations of politically motivated firings and suspensions of judicial workers are not a novel event in Venezuela. A year ago, on August 5th 2008, the Interamerican Human Rights Court decided in favor of three judges fired in 2003, who argued that their suspension was motivated by some decisions favoring opposition mayors and governors. The recent removal of judicial workers and the Attorney General’s legislative proposal take place in the context of President Chavez’s recent urge to speed up the passing of “revolutionary laws” in preparation of the rapidly approaching 10th anniversary of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, to be held on December 5, 2009.