The Tristan Times reported last week that a Constitutional Review Team would be arriving on St. Helena island on November 12th for a visit that may last about two and a half days. Tristan da Cunha, which has 268 residents, is administered as a dependency of St. Helena, a British Overseas Territory with a population of 4250.
The visit is part of an ongoing effort by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office to update the constitution of St. Helena and its dependencies. Overviews of the proposed constitution were published by St. Helena Governor Andrew Gurr on April 28, 2008, and by the Tristan Times two months later. It appears from these descriptions as if a number of important provisions will be included in the new constitution. For instance, one of its major components will mandate protecting human rights. These constitutional provisions—a bill of rights—will take precedence over any laws that might be enacted subsequently.
The present constitution, dating from 1988, contains no bill of rights, but part three of the proposed document establishes such provisions as the right to life, personal liberty, conscience, expression, privacy, education, a fair trial, and free assembly. The right to private property will also be specified.
Many of the remaining provisions of the proposed document modify the governance system already in place. The new Constitution will include a governor, appointed by the Queen, who has legislative and executive powers, with requirements for substantial input and consent by elected representatives of the islands.
Part 13 of the document describes the ways the proposed constitution relates to Tristan da Cunha. First of all, it will no longer be described as a “dependency.” The same bill of rights accorded to St. Helena will also apply to Tristan. The Governor of St. Helena will continue to be the Governor of Tristan, as will the Attorney General serve for both islands. A Court of Appeals and a Supreme Court would be shared by the two islands.
For the first time the Governor would be required to consult the Island Council on Tristan before promulgating any local laws. Governor Gurr’s statement of April indicated that input from the Tristan Islanders would be sought and considered in the preparation of the new constitution, though the news story last week did not mention if or when the Constitutional Review Team would consult them.