The Importance of having Constitution Review

Sir Lawrence A Joseph

By Dr Lawrence A Joseph

On 16 of January 2014, what has been called the Constitution Reform Advisory Committee, had its inaugural meeting here in Grenada. The committee comprises a wide cross-section of individuals representing diverse organisations, and is being chaired by constitutional lawyer, Dr Francis Alexis.

The stated purpose of the Committee is “to provide oversight to the process of Constitution Reform.”

The name given to the committee seems to be misleading. The present name suggests that it is a foregone conclusion that the present constitution needs to be reformed. In actual fact what a committee of this nature ought to be doing, is to review the present constitution after holding consultations with the general public, and then make recommendations to the government as to whether the constitution should be untouched, amended or reformed. A more appropriate name could have been the Constitution Review Committee.

After forty years since Grenada’s independence, it seems that it is more than time for the constitution to be reviewed. It may be quite possible that after a review, the populace may determine that the constitution ought to remain as it is. In other words the determination may be made that it is quite effective and efficient as it is. “Effective” here refers to the fact that the constitution meets its intended objectives and that those intended objectives are sufficient. “Efficient” refers to the fact that the intended objectives are being met smoothly and with minimum effort.

In making an assessment as to the effectiveness and efficiency of a country’s constitution, there are certain fundamental questions that need to be asked: Are there sufficient and appropriate constitutional provisions to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals? Does the structure of government meet nationalistic objectives? Does the electorate have a free, fair and transparent opportunity to vote for the government of its choice? Are there sufficient and appropriate provisions vis-a-vis the doctrine of separation of powers and the rule of law to ensure that the overall system of governance is not abused?

If all of the answers to these questions are in the affirmative, then serious consideration ought to be given to leaving the constitution untouched. However, if there are areas that need to be merely tidied up in order to make it more effective and efficient, then the appropriate amendments ought to be made. On the other hand if either of the answers to the above questions is in the negative, then serious considerations ought to be given to reforming the constitution, although it may not necessarily have to be reformed. “Reform” here means undertaking a comprehensive alteration of its structure which alteration may involve fundamental changes such as changing from a monarchical system of government to a republican system or vice versa.

In general, the process of amending the Grenada Constitution involves obtaining two-thirds majority support in both Houses of Parliament and in a referendum. In order to avoid unnecessary divisiveness, it is most important therefore that the appropriate consultations be done by the committee so that popular recommendations are made to the government for processing.

From all appearances the following proposals for amending the constitution seem to have general consensus: amend section 104 to allow final court appeals to be made to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) instead of the Privy Council; amend section 105 to change the name of the court here in Grenada from the Supreme Court of Grenada and the West Indies Associated States, to the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court; amend section 35 to displace the position of the Supervisor of Elections by an Electoral Commission with representatives from the major political parties.

Significant areas of the constitution where there is no general consensus as yet, pertain to the structure of government as that relates to whether the present monarchical system should be replaced with a republican system; whether term limits should be imposed for the Head of Government; whether Proportional Representation should be included in the electoral process; and whether the name of the state should be changed to Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique. Other areas are also being discussed.

It is to be hoped that when it comes to crunch time, heavily controversial matters would be given due consideration and receive general consensus. If this is not the case, hastily processed and implemented constitutional provisions may lead to ultimate confusion and chaos amongst the populace.

It is most important therefore that we do not bite off more than we can chew.

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