The Constitution

The Constitution

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.

Background

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.

Nevis

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.

Structure of Government

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.

St. Kitts was once known as the Gibraltar of the West Indies for its domination of 18th- century colonial battles. How the island rose to become the world’s leader in sugarcane cultivation, an inspiration for the industrial revolution in the process.

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