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Saint Kitts & Nevis - Government

St. Kitts and Nevis gained independence from Britain on 19 September 1983. As head of state, Queen Elizabeth II is represented in St. Kitts and Nevis by a governor general, who acts on the advice of the prime minister and the cabinet. The prime minister is the leader of the majority party of the House of Representatives, and the cabinet conducts affairs of state. St. Kitts and Nevis has a bicameral legislature: An 11-member Senate appointed by the governor general (mainly on the advice of the prime minister and the leader of the opposition); and an 11-member popularly elected House of Representatives which has eight St. Kitts seats and three Nevis seats. The prime minister and the cabinet are responsible to the Parliament.

Although legally responsible for the government of both islands, the governor general appoints a deputy to represent him or her on Nevis. As the highest executive authority on the islands, the governor general appoints the prime minister, the deputy prime minister, other ministers of the government, the leader of the opposition in Parliament, and members of the Public Service Commission and Police Service Commission. He may prorogue or dissolve Parliament at any time. In the judicial sphere, he has the power of pardon, "respite" (stay of execution of sentence), and remittance of all or part of the sentence of convicted criminals. As in most Commonwealth countries, however, the apparently sweeping nature of the governor general's powers is restricted by the requirement that the governor general act only in accordance with the advice of the prime minister. In St. Kitts and Nevis, the governor general is permitted to act without consultation only when the prime minister cannot be contacted because of absence or illness.

The focus of effective power in the federal government is the Cabinet of Ministers, which consists of the prime minister and other ministers drawn from the membership of the assembly (either representatives or senators). The cabinet determines the business and policies of government. According to the Constitution, the cabinet is "collectively responsible to the National Assembly," but because its members are drawn from that body, there is little likelihood of serious disagreement between the two.

The National Assembly is the parliament of Saint Kitts and Nevis. The assembly has 14 or 15 members (depending upon circumstances), 11 of whom are elected for a five-year term in single-seat constituencies and are known as Representatives. The remaining four are called Senators; three are appointed by the Governor General and the fourth is the Attorney General (i.e. an ex-officio member). The 1983 constitution mandates at least three senators, or four if an attorney-general is not one of these three appointed senators. The number can be increased by the parliament as long as it doesn't exceed two thirds of the number of representatives. Except for the attorney-general, the senators are appointed by the governor-general, acting on the advice of the Prime Minister in two of the appointments and the leader of the opposition for the third one. The parliament has a speaker and deputy speaker elected by the members of the parliament during its first meeting following a general election. They do not have to be members of it; but if they are then they cannot also be in the cabinet or parliamentary secretaries.

The St. Kitts and Nevis bases its legal system on the British common law system. The Attorney General, the Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, junior judges and magistrates administer justice. The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court Act establishes the Supreme Court of Judicature, which consists of the High Court and the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal. The High Court hears criminal and civil matters and makes determinations based on the Constitution. Appeals are made in the first instance to the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, an itinerant court that hears appeals from all OECS members. Final appeal is to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom.

The constitution provides for a fair, speedy, and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with counsel in a timely manner. There is a presumption of innocence, and defendants may question or confront witnesses and communicate with an attorney of choice. Defendants also have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, to have a trial without undue delay, and to appeal. All defendants are entitled to a fair and public trial in either the Magistrate or High Court depending on the crime, while juries are used at the high-court level only for criminal matters. Free legal assistance was available for indigent defendants in capital cases only. Defendants had access to interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. The law extends these rights to all defendants.

St. Kitts and Nevis has enjoyed a long history of free and fair elections, although the outcome of elections in 1993 was strongly protested by the opposition and the Eastern Caribbean Regional Security System (RSS) was briefly deployed to restore order. The elections in 1995 were contested by the two major parties, the ruling People's Action Movement (PAM) and the St. Kitts and Nevis Labour Party. Labour won seven of the 11 seats, with Dr. Denzil Douglas becoming prime minister. In the 2010 elections, Denzil Douglas and the Labour Party were returned to power, winning six of the eight seats allotted to St. Kitts in the Parliament. The Nevis-based Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM) won two seats, the Nevis Reformation Party (NRP) won one seat, and the PAM party won two seats.

The Constitution of Saint Kitts and Nevis provides for a federal system of government with its seat in Basseterre, the country’s capital. The federal government is responsible for foreign affairs, national security, and justice and for the domestic affairs of the island of Saint Kitts. The Constitution gives the Nevis Island Administration autonomous responsibility for the domestic affairs of Nevis.

The constitution gives Nevis considerable autonomy. Nevis has an island assembly, a premier, and a deputy governor general. Under certain specified conditions, it may secede from the federation. In accordance with its rights under the Constitution, in 1996 the Nevis Island Administration under the Concerned Citizens' Movement (CCM) of Premier Vance Amory initiated steps towards secession from the Federation, the most recent being a referendum in 1998 that failed to secure the required two-thirds majority for secession.

In the July 10, 2006 Nevis elections for the Nevis Island Administration, the NRP won three of the five seats; the CCM won two. The NRP's Joseph Parry assumed the premiership of Nevis. While opposing secession, the government acknowledged the constitutional rights of Nevisians to determine their future independence. Constitutional safeguards include freedom of speech, press, worship, movement, and association. Like its neighbors in the English-speaking Caribbean, St. Kitts and Nevis has an excellent human rights record. Its judicial system is modeled on British practice and procedure and its jurisprudence on English common law.

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Page last modified: 19-07-2017 18:55:28 ZULU