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Saint Lucia - Government

St. Lucia is a parliamentary democracy modeled on the Westminster system. The head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, represented by a governor general, appointed by the Queen as her representative. The governor general exercises ceremonial functions, but residual powers, under the constitution, can be used at the governor general's discretion. The actual power in St. Lucia lies with the prime minister and the cabinet, usually representing the majority party in parliament.

St. Lucia inherited a democratic political tradition, rooted in the legitimacy of constitutional rule and parliamentary governance. At independence, it adopted a Westminster-style parliamentary system, which provided a framework for the orderly transition of governments and established a tradition of minimal political upheaval, in spite of the existence of strong, conflicting political interests.

St. Lucia is governed by the 1979 Constitution, which went into effect at the time of independence. It guarantees citizens certain rights, including the right to life and personal property; protection from slavery, deprivation of property, arbitrary search, and discrimination; and freedom of expression, assembly, and movement.

Formally, St. Lucia is a constitutional monarchy; nominal executive authority rests with the British sovereign, who rules through his or her chief administrator, the governor general. The government operates as a parliamentary democracy, in which power is shared by the prime minister and a bicameral legislature.

The prime minister, although formally appointed by the governor general, rules as the leader of the majority party in Parliament. Other ministerial posts, as decreed by Parliament, are filled by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister. All ministers are members of Parliament.

Parliament comprises two chambers, the Senate and the House of Assembly. The bicameral parliament consists of a 17-member House of Assembly whose members are elected by universal adult suffrage for 5-year terms and an 11-member senate appointed by the governor general. The parliament may be dissolved by the governor general at any point during its 5-year term, either at the request of the prime minister--in order to take the nation into early elections--or at the governor general's own discretion, if the house passes a vote of no-confidence in the government.

The Senate is composed of eleven members. All are appointed by the governor general, six on the advice of the prime minister, three on the advice of the leader of the opposition, and two at the sole discretion of the governor general. The House is elected by universal suffrage; each legally formed constituency is allowed one representative. In the late 1980s, there were seventeen representatives. A speaker and deputy speaker of the House are elected at the first meeting of Parliament. A leader of the opposition is appointed by the governor general to represent leadership for all parties other than the majority party.

Parliament is convened for a period of time not to exceed five years. It may be dissolved at the discretion of the governor general if the prime minister so advises under the laws of the Constitution or if a resolution of no confidence is passed by the House. Elections are to be held within three months of the dissolution of Parliament.

The primary duties of Parliament consist of making laws and amending the Constitution as necessary. The latter action requires a two-thirds vote of the House. Bills may be introduced into the House or Senate with the exception of money bills, which may originate only in the House of Assembly. A money bill includes any action regarding taxation or the spending or borrowing of public funds.

The Constitution also provides for two important commissions composed of parliamentary representatives, the Constituency Boundary Commission and the Electoral Commission. The former delineates boundaries in St. Lucia to be used to define electoral constituencies, of which there were seventeen in the late 1980s. Each constituency is represented by one member in the House. The Electoral Commission defines electoral procedures.

St. Lucia has an independent judiciary composed of district courts and a high court. Cases may be appealed to the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeals and, ultimately, to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London. St. Lucia's legal structure derives from English common law and is administered by an independent court system. There are district courts throughout the island. Appeals may be made to the Eastern Caribbean States Supreme Court, which is composed of the High Court and the Court of Appeal. The High Court traditionally hears cases concerning basic rights and freedoms, as well as constitutional interpretations. The prison system is managed by the Superintendent of Prisons under the Ministry of Social Affairs.

Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence; prompt and detailed information about charges; a fair and public trial without undue delay; personal presence at their own trial; communication with an attorney of their choice; adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals; access to government-held evidence; challenge of prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and presentation of ones own witnesses and evidence; freedom from being compelled to testify or confess guilt; and appeal. Attorneys are not provided at public expense to defendants who cannot pay unless the charge is murder. The law extends these rights to all defendants.

The island is divided into 10 administrative divisions, including the capital, Castries. St. Lucia formerly had sixteen parishes that formed the basis of local government. Regional elections are held to select officials responsible for many of the local services, such as sanitation and maintenance of secondary roads. Popularly elected local governments in most towns and villages perform such tasks as regulation of sanitation and markets and maintenance of cemeteries and secondary roads.

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Page last modified: 19-07-2017 18:55:26 ZULU