Reviving Constitutional Reform in Saint Lucia: The Role of the Parliamentary Constitutional Review Committee

By Cynthia Barrow-Giles, 26 April
St. Lucia's Parliamentary Constitutional Review Committee (photo credit: Saint Lucia Government via Youtube)
St. Lucia's Parliamentary Constitutional Review Committee (photo credit: Saint Lucia Government via Youtube)

St. Lucia has recently reinvigorated constitutional reform efforts with the appointment of a bipartisan Parliamentary Constitutional Review Committee (PCRC), more than a decade after a previous commission's recommendations were ill-received and largely ignored. This renewed push is influenced by regional shifts towards severing colonial ties and a local resurgence in discussions about national identity and democratic governance. The PCRC is tasked with revisiting the previous report and recommending reforms. Understandably, however, it is likely that any radical proposal unacceptable to the political elite will be assiduously avoided – writes Cynthia Barrow-Giles

More than a decade after a Constitutional Reform Commission’s wide ranging and seemingly controversial report, St. Lucia is once again set to restart its stalled constitutional reform project. After its appointment in December 2023, the new Parliamentary Constitutional Review Committee (PCRC), of which the author is a member, convened in March 2024 to begin its work. None of the governance problems identified by the 2011 report have been remedied despite recently successful legislative and constitutional reforms to remove the Privy Council from the judicial system of the country and accede to the Caribbean Court of Justice. There remains continuing dissatisfaction with the functioning of the parliament, the exclusionary nature of the electoral system, the absence of a regime to govern political finance, the dominance of the cabinet, and the persistence of allegations of corruption. Yet, in the intervening years, despite the clear deficiencies of the Westminster parliamentary system – dubbed “Westmonster” in the Caribbean context by Matthew L. Bishop – interest in constitutional reform has significantly waned.

History of Constitutional Review in St. Lucia

St. Lucia’s independence in 1979 occurred against the backdrop of political tension, with the opposition St. Lucia Labour Party withholding its support for independence at the time. Some 25 years later, there was a general perception among the political elite and citizenry that reform was necessary, particularly in relation to the functioning of the parliament and the extensive powers of the Prime Minister. For the members of the first post-independence bipartisan Constitutional Reform Commission – established in 2006 – a major overhaul of the system was a distinct possibility.

The recommendations in the Commission’s 2011 report ranged from minor constitutional reforms (tinkering with the form and not the substance), to expansion of fundamental rights, and overhauling the Westminster system, including a transition to a republic and adopting a hybrid political model. This flagship recommendation for a hybrid political model proved to be a significant miscalculation, ultimately preventing parliament from seriously considering and introducing amendments to the independence Constitution of 1979. The fact that it took the parliament four years after the submission of the report to debate its contents was ominous enough. Moreover, the tone and tenor of the parliamentary debate about the report from August-September 2015 underscored the comatose nature of constitutional reform in the country for nearly a decade, until the appointment of the PCRC in March 2024.

Parliamentary Resistance to Constitutional Re-engineering: No to Hybridity

The dormancy of constitutional discourse and reform in St Lucia since 2011 may be largely attributed to the recommendation concerning the nature of the relationship between the executive and the legislature. The Constitutional Reform Commission (CRC) reasoned that the fusion of power typical of the Westminster system was unpalatable for citizens, based on various public submissions received over the five-year life of the Commission. Indeed, many had called for a complete separation of powers, along the lines of the American political system, criticizing the existing arrangements for imposing a centralised, near-monolithic power structure with a dependent and submissive legislature playing a limited role in decision-making. A significant regional concern has been the political consequences of the small size of Caribbean parliaments, which complicates the functioning of the legislature, especially given the tendency towards lopsidedness that leads to the marginalization of the opposition. Not only does this create situations where the executive comprises all or nearly all members of the ruling political party, but it also makes it difficult for an effective backbench to exist. Moreover, in some countries, elections have produced parliaments without an opposition. This has led to an inability to activate constitutionally mandated bodies such as the Public Accounts Committee, which, according to legislation, must be chaired by the Leader of the Opposition.

The CRC concluded that the separation of power typical of presidential models was unsuitable for St. Lucia but retaining the power dynamics typified under the Westminster model in the Caribbean was equally unacceptable . . . 

The CRC concluded that the separation of power typical of presidential models was unsuitable for St. Lucia but retaining the power dynamics typified under the Westminster model in the Caribbean was equally unacceptable. It therefore recommended a hybrid parliamentary-presidential constitution “with parliamentarism being the dominant force” (CRC Report p. 137).  The proposed hybrid model hinged on the ability of the Prime Minister to retain a central role, selecting ministers who could originate from the parliament but would have to resign upon appointment. The CRC anticipated that this would disrupt the automatic connection between parliamentary representation and executive power, ensuring that elected members of parliament would hold their positions only as constituency representatives and as legislators.

The traditional three-fold role played by many elected members – legislator, constituency representative, and cabinet member – would therefore be eliminated, intending to foster the “development of professional legislators who could devote time to the scrutiny of legislation and provide oversight of the Executive through committees, while at the same time devoting themselves to the demands of their constituencies” (CRC Report p. 137). Additionally, the CRC argued that this new system would enhance democratic accountability, with the improved ability for vertical checks and balances against excessive executive power, thereby effectively addressing the worst features of the Westminster system, and empowering the legislature.

The proposed re-engineering of power dynamics to decrease co-dependency and enhance the legislature’s ability to check the political executive was, however, an anathema to parliamentarians, and this visceral dislike of the proposed exercise in hybridity clouded parliamentary discussions on the CRC’s report. Unfortunately, members of the CRC did not envisage that the well-intentioned proposals would be perceived as a threat by the parliamentarians and would ultimately lead to significant resistance from the political elite and seeming death of the package of reforms. During the debate in the House of Assembly in August 2015, there were many invectives used against the Commissioners’ motives in advancing the hybrid model. Parliamentarians on both sides of the political divide insisted that there ought to be a natural connection between elections and membership of the House of Assembly. The resistance to the proposal was vividly articulated by one member of the opposition who argued that the separation of roles was illogical and, invoking echoes of slavery, would lead to less democratic accountability:

… so you foolish enough to go and face the electorate, you foolish enough to take the mapwe (insults), you foolish enough to do everything[,] let them throw everything at you, you are elected but if you were to be given a ministry you have to resign from Parliament. Fools run elections wise men govern … in my mind is not only ludicrous [it] is preposterous and it will not see the light of day .… And if we permit this recommendation to see the light of day, Mr. Speaker, it would be reinventing the will [sic]. The masa days will be back, they will be back; we cannot afford that in our democracy, Mr. Speaker.”

 The nature of the debate in the House of Assembly showed just how unpalatable the proposal was viewed by the elected members.

The New Committee (and its Limited Mandate)

Notwithstanding the visceral dislike of the hybrid political model recommended by the CRC in its 2011 report, on 25 August 2015, the House of Assembly passed a resolution supporting the establishment of a Parliamentary Constitutional Review Committee (PCRC). Undoubtedly its appointment is linked to the renewed interest across the region in constitutional reform, influenced by many regional political leaders’ stated intentions to sever the link with the British monarchy, a sentiment fueled by the transition of Barbados to a republic in November 2021. Furthermore, the slavery reparations debate has brought in its wake a renewed interest in black nationalism and revisiting the horror of slavery, which cannot be divorced from the monarchy. Locally, too, the failure of the United Workers Party to appoint a Deputy Speaker for several years, as constitutionally mandated, has also provoked widespread interest in constitutional reform.

The inclusive approach to the PCRC's membership mirrored the intent of the composition of the earlier Commission, which was geared towards achieving bipartisan support for the proposals and the critical participation of civil society in the process.

The parliamentary resolution outlined the PCRC’s mandate to identify and agree on amendments to the Constitution of St. Lucia. Specifically, the resolution provided for a twelve-member bipartisan committee comprising three persons selected by the Prime Minister from the Government of St. Lucia, two by the Leader of the Opposition from the political opposition, three advisors from civil society appointed by the Prime Minister, and two civil society members selected by the Leader of the Opposition. Additionally, one current or former Senator would be each selected by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. This inclusive approach mirrored the intent of the composition of the earlier Commission, which was geared towards achieving bipartisan support for the proposals and the critical participation of civil society in the process.

Unfortunately, it took nearly ten years after the passage of the resolution for the Government to establish the Committee, which then began work in March 2024. Clearly, there would be no reinventing of the wheel, nor would the process include widespread consultation with citizens both at home and abroad like the 2006-2011 process. Indeed, during the life of the Commission, the CRC held over 200 engagements with community groups, schools and past and present constitutional officeholders, in addition to public lectures and panel discussions. The PCRC’s mandate is limited to reviewing the recommendations from the earlier CRC report and to provide the parliament with a set of proposals that could be adopted based primarily on, but not limited to, the CRC report.

Given the outright rejection of the hybrid model by the legislature and its consequential impact on the entire reform package, the PCRC must be cognizant to avoid the “poison pill” when contemplating much-needed constitutional reform. While some changes to the political model may be warranted and supported, these will not necessarily disrupt the current model in place. There is also expectation that the PCRC might reflect support for the termination of the monarchy in the constitutional order of St. Lucia, reflecting the current discourse in the Commonwealth Caribbean post the transition of Barbados to a parliamentary republic in 2021.

It Takes Two Hands to Clap: The Complex Path to Amending St. Lucia’s Constitution

While the Constitution of St. Lucia is not the most difficult to amend in the Commonwealth Caribbean – such distinction may be reserved for St. Kitts-Nevis – it still provides a fairly high bar to amend its entrenched sections. Thus, the Constitution protects what is in dire need of reform through the superior sanctity of entrenchment. The amendment procedure for entrenched provisions, under Section 41 of the Constitution, requires proposals to be passed by a three-quarters supermajority in the bicameral legislature followed by a referendum. This may in fact represent a formidable barrier to constitutional reform in the country: even with parliamentary support for the recommendations advanced by the PCRC, there is little guarantee that much-needed changes to the constitutional text and the accompanying governance reforms will ensue, given the requirement for majority support in a national referendum on many fundamental issues.

Conclusion: Seizing the Second Chance for Constitutional Change in St. Lucia

St. Lucia has been afforded a second chance to rethink and revise its Constitution since achieving independence in 1979. While the reason for the long gestation period between the parliamentary resolution and the establishment of the PCRC is a matter of conjecture, its belated establishment represents another opportunity to reform the 45-year-old Constitution in ways that would enhance democracy in the country, even if the core Westminster foundations remain virtually intact. The PCRC’s mandate is indeed more modest than the first constitutional reform exercise led by the late retired justice Susie D’ Auvergne. Its belated appointment, however, nearly a decade after the submission of the 2011 constitutional reform report, signals a critical moment in the constitutional journey of St. Lucia. Given that its deliberations will be conducted away from the public eye and without a mandate to consult with the people, it is difficult at this juncture to speculate on the PCRC’s revisions, additions, and acceptance of the CRC’s many proposals beyond the obvious: it is likely that any radical proposal that would mire constitutional progression or transformation –  any “poison pills” unacceptable to the political elite – will be assiduously avoided. Thus, it is expected that St. Lucia will continue to operate under a Constitution that, while potentially including a more elaborate bill of rights embracing third and fourth-generation social and economic rights, remains substantially similar to its current form.

Cynthia Barrow-Giles is a Professor in Constitutional Governance and Politics at the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies where she has also served as Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Head of Department of Government, Sociology and Social Work.

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Suggested citation: Cynthia Barrow-Giles, ‘Reviving Constitutional Reform in St. Lucia: The Role of the Parliamentary Constitutional Review Committee’, ConstitutionNet, International IDEA, 26 April 2024,

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in Voices from the Field contributions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect International IDEA’s positions.


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