of Saint Christopher and Nevis
The Constitution of Saint Kitts and Nevis was adopted on 23 June 1983 and took effect when the country became independent on 19 September 1983. It consists of 11 chapters and various schedules, which establish the rights, responsibilities and definition of the citizens of the federation. It also provides the form and structure of government, and enumerates the powers of the different branches of government. Its treatment of the island of Nevis is rather unusual among federated nations.
The current constitution of Saint Kitts and Nevis was prepared in anticipation of the country achieving independence from Britain. It is the only constitution the country has had as an independent nation, however there were several colonial constitutions before it. The union of the islands of Saint Kitts and Nevis has been controversial at least since 1882, leading the constitution to specifically provide for a path to independence for Nevis. This makes Saint Kitts and Nevis unusual among Federations.
The government created by the constitution is a constitutional monarchy headed by Elizabeth II, with a unicameral legislature. Nevis is provided with a separate island administration, but Saint Kitts is not.
The islands of Anguilla, Saint Kitts, and Nevis formed a British crown colony known as Saint Christopher Nevis Anguilla from 1882 until Anguilla rebelled in 1971. On 19 September 1983 the remaining two islands, Saint Kitts and Nevis, achieved independence from Britain. In preparation for independence, a draft constitution was presented on June 22, 1983 and accepted on June 23, to take effect upon independence.
The union of the three islands, and later the two islands was never easy, with Anguilla and Nevis being strongly opposed to the union with Saint Kitts. Nevis protested strongly against being joined with Saint Kitts from the time the idea was first broached by the British Colonial Office in 1867 until the present.
The 1983 constitution was not the first constitution for Saint Kitts and Nevis; the CIA World Fact book says there were “several previous” constitutions. However, it was the constitution enacted at the founding of the modern state of Saint Kitts and Nevis, and has not yet been replaced. However, following the failed Nevis independence referendum in 1998, a commission was appointed to make recommendations for future relations between the two islands, and together with a subsequently appointed constitutional task force, recommended a number of changes to the current constitution.
The constitution of Saint Kitts and Nevis is rather unusual in that it provides Nevis with a great deal of autonomy, and contains a provision allowing Nevis to secede should a two thirds majority of the island’s citizens vote for secession. In 1998 a referendum failed to achieve the required two thirds majority for independence.
The constitution establishes Saint Kitts and Nevis as a federation consisting of two states, one on each island. However, Saint Kitts and Nevis differs from most federated states in that in a normal federation each state has its own regional government, with the federated government providing an overarching government. However, while the Constitution provides for Nevis to have its own separate legislature, Saint Kitts is governed directly by the National Assembly. Also, the constitution provides for the appointment of a Governor General for the whole of Saint Kitts and Nevis, who appoints a Deputy Governor of Nevis. So while Nevis has its own legislature, assembly, and island administration, Saint Kitts has no such independent legislative bodies and so it is not a typical federated government. The Constitution of Saint Kitts and Nevis is unique in that it creates a federation not between Saint Kitts and Nevis, but between Nevis and the federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis. It provides for the establishment of a unicameral legislature known as the National Assembly. The constitution directs that Saint Kitts and Nevis be divided into no fewer than 11 constituencies, at least 1/3 of which are in Nevis. The national assembly contains one representative from each constituency, together with at least three appointed senators.
The national assembly is empowered to make laws, but its ability to make laws impacting Nevis is restricted by Section 37 and Chapter X.