The evolution of the Constitution: Urgent constitutional amendments required for the Presidency

Delegates at the Constitutional Conference at Marlborough House, London, May 1977. From L to R: Dr Claudius Thomas, Eastern Caribbean High Commissioner; Vernon Shaw, Cabinet Secretary; Victor Riviere, Minister of Finance; Leo Austin, Attorney General; Richard Posnett, FCO adviser; Premier Patrick John; Michael Douglas, Minister of Com¬munications and Works; Evans Luard MP, British Under-Secretary of State FCO; FCO official; EO Le Blanc; Eustace Francis; Arden Shillingford, future Dominica High Commis¬sioner in UK; Lennox Honycburch; M Eugenia Charles, Leader of the Opposition; Antony Moise.

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.

The final plan as contained in our Independence Constitution Order 1978



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.

THE PRESIDENT

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.

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25 Comments

  1. DEPENDENT
    September 18, 2012

    IS DOMINICA REALLY INDEPENDENT?
    I ask again, is DOMINICA really independent? We begging every country to give us everything.

    !. Our Youths need educations – PM begging countries for Scholarships
    2. Our Hospitals need equipment and better facilities – PM begging other countries
    3. We need roads _ PM begging the EU for grants ( or taking expensives loans for China)
    4. even the house of assembly needs Laptops and Stationery- A few months ago donated by China!
    5. We need airport- but because no country will give it to us, our PM say we don’t need it.
    5. Everything we need in Dominic,a we are begging the outside world for it.
    6. We need money, we selling our citizenship (passports) cheap sale. We could alt east ask for more money and investment for our passport. (Compared to other economic citizenship programs in the region, our passport has the lowest value)

    If DOMINICA is a DEPENDENT country!

  2. September 16, 2012

    We live on animal farm, oh lord help us to unite to solve this problem, we have made a lot of mistakes in the past right about now we need to move forward

  3. dominican
    September 15, 2012

    i do not think that we need a president in this land. how ever if we have to have one , we should be voting for that peson . he or she should campaign and have plans of development for the nation. he should be going out to get things for the country instead a ceremonial president just there getting a salary under false pretence just to sign certain doccuments. most of the times these indivduals are already receiving several pentions from institutions they have worked for over the past years. we need a working president yah go and work for the country just like the pm and others ministers do.the salary he receives for doing so little work can go a long way in paying the countries debts.

  4. Pedro
    September 15, 2012

    Our constitution was not designed to keep one man in office for 50 years. We know that it is the ambition of the PM to stay in office for 50 years and therefore he must destroy the constitution and replace it dictatorial style of government.

  5. ROSEAU VALLEY
    September 14, 2012

    Let us accept that the article is an interesting eye opener. Let’s assume that the information is accurate and reliable.

    Does it change what is happening today? No.
    Does it make what is happening today constitutional? No.

    The article merely reiterates what we have been saying and discloses one of the primary sources of the Prime Minister’s advice.

    It reminds us that since 1976/1978 there has been discussion on the nature of the presidency and other aspects related to its functioning and change such as the possibilities of death in office, resignation in case of illness, disappearance from the state etc ,

    Nevertheless, it is clear that 30+ years after these initial discussions nothing have been done in concrete terms to rectify these alleged flaws, gaps, anomalies or to give clarity to the ambiguities. The provisions of the Constitution have remained even in spite of many constitutional Review with sound recommendations from eminent jurists.

    But no action was taken. Therefore, its provisions constitute the supreme law. This means that the provisions are what they are. They are law. The supreme law of the land in accordance with Section 117- hence the issues that we have today.

    Whereas I share the view that the relevant sections of the Constitution should be amended, I do not share the urgency of the author as these provisions have been with us for more than 30 years. What is the urgency now- may I ask to the extent that we are now invoking the doctrine of Necessity? A doctrine , which by its very operation is outside the sphere of the constitution as it assumes that there is no remedy for a situation in the Constitution.

    Fundamentally, until such time that the Constitution is amended, it remains the law under which we are to be governed and enjoy the protection of our fundamental rights. It remains the law which the PM, the President, the Speaker and the AG have sworn to defend and protect. Any action taken in contravention of the Constitution as it currently reads (notwithstanding the need for amendments) is unlawful and unconstitutional.

    Therefore inasmuch as there was no vacancy at the time of the consultation with the Leader of Opposition….Section 19 and 119 of the Constitution has not been lawfully fulfilled. There has not been due process and the election of the new president is flawed and unlawful. PERIOD

  6. Colour Gray
    September 14, 2012

    O LORD,help this country;what have gone south with my little country?BOY you see how GREED, ‘GREED’ have turn man to BEAST.
    SEE WHAT THEY HAVE DONE TO MY ISLAND.
    they screwing it up.

    • Jayson
      September 15, 2012

      Jolly’s has just recieved a fresh supply of your medication…! :mrgreen:

  7. Goods Ways
    September 14, 2012

    Now all the party so called intellectual are coming out to support their master. Now it is not the PM and the speaker actions that is at fault it is the constitution! Tell us So CALL SMART MEN what else is wrong with our supreme but incorrect and outdated law, tell us because we are to DOM to know. Jah please please help us in this country.

  8. Observer
    September 14, 2012

    Doc,If only we would listen to each other. I wonder if you had spoken before if the Lord Chancellor and his constitutional law ignoramuses woudl have allowed you to speak an intelligent word.

  9. Citizen Kane
    September 14, 2012

    This article is indeed eye opening.
    The arguments made back then by the DFP are still relevant today.
    We need a reduction in the number of constituencies to 13 or even 11.

    The president should be elected by the people as suggested.

    The Dame was way ahead of her time and domincans then did not grasp the profound depth of her arguments !!!

  10. Chuck Mud
    September 14, 2012

    One thing PJ use to like that green suit. When PJ would start of “Citizens of Dominica” laborites use to say yes master. Now they crucifying him

  11. Anonymous
    September 14, 2012

    Very balanced and educated contribution to the issue, rather than the uneducated, partisan discourse currently taking place on the airwaves, media and sections of the populace.

    • No Name No Warrant
      September 14, 2012

      SO So very true…but they will come out swinging at Dr Honeychurch…wait and see

  12. Doc.Love
    September 14, 2012

    Thank you DNO for the picture.Can you imagine,Lennox Honeychurch was present at rhe meeting and with all that roro,daybar in the country presently,the man hasn’t said a word,because of his affiliation with the Dominica Labor Party.

    • Kairi
      September 14, 2012

      He had a long session on Kairi with Kamala about it a couple weeks ago….But perhaps you were not listening.

  13. Mamizoo
    September 14, 2012

    Here is a little bit of history
    Check out PJ – the smallest man in the group but the Napoleonic complex was huge. PJ says ” Me and my government shall not resign but once Leo Austin gott that kalot behind his head while walking out of the house of assembly Leo decided Guyana here I come. Vick Reviere was the guy with big flash – the real cowboy he stuck around for a while . He still in denial. Luckily PJ fired Mike that I know for sure because while I was voyaiying kool wosh on the ministry I saw Mike and rosie in the crowd of demonstrators ( all I said is I saw them among the demonstrators).

    People talk about ……. but it was that guy tha lay down that Kalot behind Leo Austin ears that let Lanod for Sen Joe and all the others runaway and abandon PJ. So who is going to figuratively place that Kalot behind a minister’s ears to get them to abandon that criminal enterprise. ( Again this is figurative and is not meant to incite violence – please no violence)

  14. Sout Man
    September 14, 2012

    Very enlightening, Lennox!!

    On a lighter note; Colonel, the Honourable Patrick Roland John had more ‘belles’ than Belles Combo and you didn’t want to be kicked by that ‘jigger’ boots worn by the Honourable Captain Victor Riviere. The Honourable Dame Eugenia Charles was still very very’nice’; evoking a second look! If u kno wa mean!!

  15. ANON
    September 14, 2012

    Nice pic of the “70’s. My uncle was sharp then in his crimpling belle bottoms; he still wears them. lol. I won’t say whick one he is!! :wink:

  16. AWA NUH
    September 14, 2012

    wow! knowledge is power. Thanks for much needed information. Great work Mr. Honeychurch

  17. No Name No Warrant
    September 14, 2012

    Dr Honeychurch to the rescue again….this is timely and very welcome.

  18. September 14, 2012

    There is no need to amend a Democratic Constitution which guarantees basic civil and religious liberties. It was carefully structured and designed [according to the long established British Democratic system]. To tamper with the Constitution will only weaken it and the freedom it guarantees and create such precedence which will lead to its eventual demise and the end of democracy as we know it.

    WARNING: DO NOT OPEN “PANDORA’S BOX”!

    • September 15, 2012

      even the great American constitution has had several AMENDMENTS since it was first established after achieving independence from the motherland Britain.

      If one is REASONABLE one can appreciate certain deficiencies overtime that SHOULD be appropriately amended

    • Realist
      September 16, 2012

      It is better to amend the constitution to a generally agreeable format and stick to it, than have an ambiguous one which gets flouted at every available moment.

    • Sar Casm
      September 16, 2012

      You are so right!!! The worse thing the US did was on December 6, 1865 when they amended their constitution for the 13th time to abolish slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime.

      Since that day, the USA has gone to hell in a hand basket.

      Instead of Liberty, your alias would have been something like Cootlah Kitay, but to the Americans they would call you Kunta Kinte.

      …and instead of writing crap on DNO, you would be going “for cane” in Massa’s field.

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