On 29 August 1976 Premier Patrick John announced in the “Salisbury Declaration” that his government intended to take Dominica to independence. A draft constitution following the monarchial system was issued by government.
There were preliminary meetings in London in March 1977 and then delegates of both the DLP Government (7) and the DFP Opposition (3) returned for the full conference in May.
At this conference, held at Marlborough House, both the DLP and the DFP representatives stated that they were in agreement on the principle of seeking independence, although the conference failed to resolve a number of serious differences between them on the details of the proposed constitution and on the method and timing of its introduction. The DFP proposed a referendum, the DLP favoured an ‘Order in Council’ passed in the British Parliament. Both options existed in the 1967 Constitution.
The main point of contention was over the proposal by the DFP that Dominica should move to full republican status with a President as head of state rather than the British monarch. The government eventually accepted this some time after the conference was over but there were differing opinions on how the President should be chosen. The size and type of parliament was also a cause for dissent. The government had originally wanted two chambers one of which would be an upper house composed of senators.
The DFP objected and finally a single chamber was adopted with nominated ‘senators’ being members of that one House of Assembly. Perhaps the DFP’s most crucial demand related to the conduct of elections and their proposal for a politically balanced Electoral Commission was eventually adopted.
The requirements for citizenship and other more general sections of the proposed constitution also received lengthy consideration. The outcome of the conference was inconclusive. The conference chairman stated that inter-party discussions should be resumed in Dominica and that a further process of consultation might be necessary if these failed to produce broad agreement.
Because of the inconclusive outcome of the constitutional conference as well as internal problems, the government put back its target date for independence from November 1977 to ‘early 1978’. By early 1978 some progress had been made however in resolving the areas of difference relating to the Independence Constitution.
On 12 July a resolution requesting and consenting to the order for termination was passed by the Dominica Assembly. On 21 July it was debated in the British House of Commons.
On 24 July it was debated in the House of Lords and the formal Order was made on the following day 25 July, by the Privy Council in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II.
The Order would take effect on 3 November 1978.
There was much discussion on the nature of the Presidency. Soon after independence it was realized that sections in relation to the position of President had major gaps in that they did not give clear provisions on a range of possible eventualities that might influence a change of President. These included the possibilities of death in office, resignation in case of illness, disappearance from the state etc.
There were two Constitutional Review Commissions, the first in 1983 chaired by Albert Matthew, and the second in1998 chaired by Telford Georges, recommended reviews of aspects of the Presidency. But no action was taken, hence some of the issues that we have today. It is my view that the relevant sections have to be reviewed and rectified by amendment of the Constitution as a matter of urgency.