The Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago Is Based on the Westminster Model in Name Not in Practice

Published: 2021-06-29 07:06:49
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"The constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is based on the Westminster Model in name not in practice".
Discuss this statement using case law and other relevant academic sources to substantiate your position.


A constitution can be defined "as a body of law containing the rules which determine the structure and state of its principal organs. It establishes the fundamental principles according to which a state is governed" (Antoine 2008). As it is in other countries and in Trinidad and Tobago, it is without a doubt the most important source of law, as it represents both independent status and the theory of constitutional supremacy.

Trinidad and Tobago, a former British colony, emerged out of colonial rule in 1962 through the acquisition of Independence; an initiative embarked upon and championed by Dr. Eric Eustace Williams, our first prime Minister. Dr. Williams' ambition necessitated as a pre-condition, the proposing and accepting of a written constitution as required from the Monarchy, under which we were governed. According to Ghany, Dr. Williams indicated in a town meeting in Port of Spain, that the British Constitution can be applied to Trinidad and Tobago. He also indicated that if it is good enough for Great Britain, it was good enough for us. His intention, it would seem, was quite clear in wanting to adopt a Westminster style constitution mirrored in the image with that of Great Britain's, to which he was successful. Or was he?

The Westminster model can be defined as a democratic parliamentary system of government modeled after the politics of the United Kingdom. It derives from the palace of Westminster; the seat of parliament in the United Kingdom. The system is a series of a legislature and is used in the legislature of most Commonwealth countries (Wikipedia 2011).
It would follow that our adopted constitutional model would be molded and reflect a British system. However, the passage of time and diverse culture has distorted in some way its ethical fabric and resulted in significant departures from traditional practices of the Westminster Model. In his article, Hinds (2001) writes "the main problem is that the region's political development has run counter to the democratic spirit of its inherited constitutional arrangement. Our post Independence experience has been characterized by a consolidation of authoritarian political culture", he goes on to say "that the culture reveals the inadequacies of the inherited political-constitutional arrangements to check the region's rampant elite authoritarian political culture".

Immediately, the most striking and obvious difference in the British constitution from that of Trinidad and Tobago's is the fact that the constitution in Britain is unwritten while Trinidad and Tobago's is a written, ridged and codified document. According to Antoine (2008), the main difference between Trinidad and Tobago's constitution and by extension, West Indian constitutions to the British constitution is not that it is unwritten and does not conform to the Doctrine of Constitutional Supremacy. Most procedures of the Westminster style in the United Kingdom is defined by conventions, practices, common law, precedent and most importantly the "spirit of inherited constitutional arrangements" (Hinds 2001).

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