The Youngest Constitution: FIJI – An overview

The Constitution of Fiji that came into force in September, 2013 is the youngest Constitution in the world. The constitution is divided into eighteen chapters which include hundred and eighty six articles and seven schedules. It provides for fifty elected members to the Parliament every four years through democratic elections. The constitutional establishes a dualist country.

Fiji has been battling military regime and unsurprisingly constitutional provision under Article 2 (3) seek to eliminate the culture of coups and take a tough stand against of any activity in furtherance of the same. The Constitution recognises three major languages, namely iTaukei, English and Hindustani. It further provides for specific disability rights and therefore allows for the parliamentary proceedings to take place in sign language. The foundations of secularism are laid down in Article 7 (3) which provide for equal treatment for all religions.

Environment protection and natural heritage have been given due recognition as they are given a different chapter altogether which includes broad principles for protection of the same. It also forms a constitutional body, National Consultative Land Forum which seeks to protect the fragile environment in which a country is located. Another constitutional body that the constitution seeks to establish is the Fiji Human Rights Commission in light of the recent alleged human rights violations in the country.

The most important part of the constitution however is in chapter three of the constitution that provides for a ‘Bill of Rights’. It provides for right to life, dignity, equality, liberty and security, privacy, freedom from discrimination, freedom from slavery servitude, forced labour and trafficking, freedom of religion, belief and opinion. In essence it provides for all rights that a liberal democracy would have. Interestingly, like India it provides for Right to information and Right to education under Article 32 and 33, respectively.

The seventh chapter deals with the President and his powers. The eligibility criteria to be the President however could lead to future contention as it neither provides for a minimum age for being nominated nor does it provide for elimination of convicted criminals from the office of the President. Further, in the absence of the President the Speaker deputizes in his position which again is contentious as the Speaker under the Fiji Constitution is given the stature of the Chief Justice, which is in direct conflict to the principles of separation of powers.

The executive powers are placed in the eleventh part of the Constitution. The constitution mandates the Prime Minister to declare and outline his policies and programmes the beginning of the year which would be reviewed by the Parliament.

The judicial system of Fiji under the constitution establishes six kinds of courts, namely, the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, the High Court, the Magistrates Court and a military court. The constitution also provides for establishment of any other court through legislation. The Supreme Court would have seven to fifteen judges who may sit in combination of three or five as the chief justice may wish. However, the constitution provides for the Judicial Services Commission under Article 133 which would appoint the members of the judicial office. This commission consists of members from both the judiciary and the executive and the judiciary is accountable for its actions to this commission. An executive committee which forms the Mercy Commission under Article 139 has also been given constitutional status and would review the petitions of all convicted prisoners on an appeal basis.

Public Finance for the State is dealt under chapter fourteen which has provisions for presentation of budget, expenditure, revenue, debt and other finance related matters. It forms the Consolidated Fund under Article 158. Further, the constitution seeks to establish the Reserve Bank of Fiji under Article 163.

The Constitution of Fiji gives constitutional status to too many commissions which could have just been established through a statute. This essentially creates a structural problem where there State functionaries may exceed their jurisdiction and due to their independent constitutional status lead to an impasse.

However, certain principles have deliberately been entrenched in the constitution and have specifically been left outside the scope of the legislature’s amending power. This includes secularism, citizenship and the bill of rights. It is interesting to note that the power to amend the constitution under Article 182 derives its supremacy through itself as under clause (c) it prohibits “repeal, infringe or diminish the effect of this Article.”

The seven schedules include a separate schedule for citizenship, protection of land and land rights for the statutes protected under this schedule, oaths and affirmations, code of conduct of State officers, removal of officers of State, transitional laws (the longest schedule as it provides for the functioning of the government in its transition into democracy) and lastly repeal of laws and decrees.

This article has been written by Shashank Singh, a second year student at the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences. 

 

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