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Caribbean Islands Table of Contents

Caribbean Islands

Government and Politics

The Governmental System

Under the Constitution adopted at independence on November 3, 1978, the president is head of state and is appointed by the prime minister following consultation with the leader of the opposition. Executive authority is vested in the president, but in the exercise of most of his executive functions the president is required to "act in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet or a Minister acting under the general authority of Cabinet." The prime minister is the head of government and in that capacity is the chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers. Ministers are chosen by the prime minister from a group composed of the elected members of the country's unicameral parliament and senators appointed by the prime minister.

The House of Assembly is composed of twenty-one of elected representatives and nine senators, five appointed by the prime minister and four appointed by the opposition leader, bringing the total membership of the House to thirty. Whatever member commands the support of the majority of the elected members in the House of Assembly is named prime minister. The person commanding the majority of the rest of the House becomes opposition leader. (The pre-independence legislature was also known as the House of Assembly.)

The movement of the ceremonial mace to the lower position on its stand in the House chamber indicates that the House is sitting in committee, usually to discuss details of a bill before returning to a plenary session for a vote. Decisions are by simple majority vote, except on selected matters, such as constitutional amendments and the declaration of a state of emergency, when a two-thirds majority is required.

The Constitution allows for any citizen of the country, eighteen years of age and over, who is literate and not bankrupt, to organize and take part in political activity. The Constitution does not recognize political parties nor is their formation required for participating in elections. Candidates may, therefore, stand for election either associated with a party or as independents.

Servicing this government structure is a civil service of about 2,500 persons. In the past, jobs in the service were much sought after because of the employment security and status that they offered. With the expansion of the commercial private sector and nongovernmental organizations since the early 1970s, more attractive conditions of work, including salaries, training, and travel, have encouraged a shift of top- and middle-level professionals away from the public sector. In the late 1980s, major adjustments in the size and structure of the public service were anticipated as part of the government's program of structural adjustment. These changes were expected to result in a streamlined, performance-oriented service in which productivity and merit, not longevity of service, would be rewarded.

Dominica has a multi-level judicial system commencing with the Lower Court, or Magistrate's Court, which is the first level of recourse for violators of the country's laws. The government-employed magistrate makes decisions at this level without the benefit of a jury. At the next level, a judge, assisted by a jury, presides over civil and criminal cases. Jurors are selected from the list of registered voters and, unless excused by the court, are obliged to serve when called. Appeals may be made to the Eastern Caribbean States Supreme Court, which consists of a Court of Appeal and a High Court. A panel of judges is appointed to hear appeals, and these sittings take place on the island. The court of last resort for Dominicans is the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London, where decisions of the Supreme Court may be reviewed for final ruling.

The office of the Director of Public Prosecution is a government department located in the Ministry of Legal Affairs; it is headed by the attorney general. The lawyers in this office conduct the prosecution of cases on behalf of the state. There are no legal aid organizations, and citizens are expected to utilize lawyers in private practice as defense attorneys.

Data as of November 1987

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Caribbean Islands Table of Contents