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The Constitution and the Bill of Rights in SVG

The Constitution and the Bill of Rights in SVG

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The Constitution of St Vincent and the Grenadines (“SVG’s Constitution”), which is the supreme law in SVG, outlines many fundamental rights and freedoms concerning persons in SVG.

SVG’s Constitution, like many other Caribbean constitutions has a Bill of Rights. Right after the preamble (which is unenforceable), we have chapter one (1) of SVG’s Constitution titled “Protection of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms”. This chapter is known as the Bill of Rights in SVG, and it exposits upon the fundamental rights and freedoms of every person in SVG. It begins with an opening section that gives a general description of rights, then under various sections (most notably from sections 2 to 13) it gives a detailed description of specific fundamental rights and freedoms of persons in SVG. Throughout this chapter, various circumstances under which many of these rights may be limited are expressed (including emergency provisions), and it also provides the option for persons to apply to a superior court if they believe any of their rights are being or are likely to be violated.

Section 1, the opening section of the Bill of Rights, guarantees the fundamental rights and freedoms of persons in SVG no matter their race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, creed, or sex. It then lists many rights such as life, liberty, security of the person and the protection of the law, freedom of conscience, expression and of assembly and association, protection for the privacy of his home and other property from deprivation of property without compensation. One may notice that rights such as privacy of the home are not explicitly mentioned in sections 2 to 13. Like the preamble, the opening section of the Bill of Rights has generally been interpreted to be unenforceable but the tides in the region appear to be changing based on recent decisions from courts in the region, including the Caribbean Court of Justice.

Sections 2 to 13 of the Bill of Rights which gives a detailed description of many rights, speaks about the protection of the right to life, protection of the right to personal liberty, protection from slavery and forced labour, protection from inhuman treatment, protection from deprivation of property, protection from arbitrary search or entry, provisions to secure protection of law, protection of freedom of conscience, protection of freedom of expression, protection of freedom of assembly and association, and protection from discrimination. Many of these rights expressly provide circumstances under which they may be limited. However, these limitations must be reasonably justifiable.

Sections 14, 15, and 17 then look at the emergency provisions under SVG’s Constitution. During a period of emergency, Parliament can make laws that may derogate from the right to personal liberty and the non-discrimination provision, provided the measures taken are also reasonably justifiable. Section 15 further also provides for protection for persons detained under emergency laws.

However, what happens if persons feel that their rights under sections 2 to 15 of SVG’s Constitution are being violated or likely to be violated? Section 16 provides the option for a person to apply to the High Court (that is supposed to be independent and impartial) to have it decide on the matter. If they are not satisfied with the High Court’s decision, they may appeal the matter to the Court of Appeal of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court and then the Privy Council, which is currently the highest court over SVG.

Concerning the Bill of Rights in SVG’s Constitution, there is a lot of room for legal reform in the future.

Today, I encourage all of us to read SVG’s Constitution to familiarise ourselves with the rights therein and to think critically about where improvements can be made to better protect all of us, especially vulnerable and disadvantaged groups of people in society.

Author: Jeshua Bardoo is a Vincentian Barrister-at-law and Solicitor. He is also the President of Equal Rights, Access and Opportunities SVG Inc. He can be contacted via email at [email protected]