Our Constitution

Our supreme legislative document

A good constitution cannot alone make a nation’s happiness. A bad one can alone make its unhappiness.
Guy Carcassonne

All of our local laws are made under the authority of St Helena’s Constitution.

This page is in indexes: Island Detail

Our Constitution Saint Helena Island Info

Below: What it isRead More

This page only discusses our current Constitution. Previous Constitutions are discussed on our Government page.

What it is

A constitution is a set of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is governed. These rules together make up (i.e. ‘constitute’) what the entity is. When these principles are written down into a single document or set of legal documents, those documents may be said to embody a written constitution; if they are written down in a single comprehensive document, it is said to embody a codified constitution.

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St Helena is an internally self-governing Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom. It forms part of a group comprising St Helena itself along with Ascension Island and the Tristan da Cunha group of Islands.

St Helena has its own legislature, empowered to make laws known as Ordinances. Many of the Ordinances enable an authority (usually the Governor in Council) to make detailed ‘secondary legislation’ in the form of Rules, Regulations, or Orders. These Ordinances, and their associated secondary legislation, are available on the Government of St Helena website.

All of these local laws are made under the authority of St Helena’s Constitution, which is found in an Order in Council made under the Saint Helena Act, 1833. This is because ultimate legislative and executive authority for the British Overseas Territories resides in the British Crown. The Constitution provides for a Legislature, an Executive, and a Judiciary; with specific measures to protect the independence of the Judiciary from the other two organs of Government.

The Constitution sets out how St Helena is governed:

  • It provides for a Legislative Council which comprises A Speaker and a Deputy Speaker - neither of whom has a vote; Three Ex Officio Members (The Chief Secretary, Financial Secretary, and Attorney General), none of whom has a vote; and twelve Elected Members. The Elected Members are elected by the people of St Helena.

  • Technically, the legislature also comprises Her Majesty the Queen but, in practice, it is usual for the Governor (the Queen’s representative in the Territory) to approve, on Her behalf, Bills which have been passed by the Legislative Council. Executive Authority is vested formally in Her Majesty and exercised on Her behalf by the Governor. The Governor is, in most matters, required to consult the Executive Council and to act in accordance with its advice.

  • The Executive Council comprises the same three Ex Officio members (who do not have a vote) and five of the twelve Elected Members. The Elected Members are chosen by the 12 Elected Members of Legislative Council, from amongst themselves.

  • The expression ‘Governor in Council’ means ‘the Governor, acting after consulting the Executive Council.

More on our Government page.

The Constitution also provides for a Supreme Court and a Court of Appeal, and allows for local laws to create subordinate courts. The Court of Appeal is to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, in London. More information can be found on the Government of St Helena website.

Our constitution is often referred to as our ‘supreme legislative document’ because any Ordinance that is found to be incompatible with it is required to be changed{1}.

Read More

Below: Read it for yourselfArticle: Press Release - New Constitution

More stories on our page Read articles about St Helena.

Read it for yourself

…every person in St Helena is entitled to the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, that is to say, has the right, without distinction of any kind, such as sex, sexual orientation, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, age, disability, birth or other status, but subject to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and for the public interest, to each and all of the following:
(a) life, liberty, security of the person and the protection of the law;
(b) freedom of conscience, of expression and of assembly and association;
(c) protection for his or her private and family life, the privacy of his or her home and other property; and
(d) protection from deprivation of property save in the public interest and on payment of fair compensation…

The full text of our Constitution can be read here (913.9Kb).

Article: Press Release - New Constitution

Issued by the Government of St Helena, September 2009{2}

1st September 2009 was an historic day for St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha since the new Constitution came into force. This follows many months of discussion and a number of public consultation meetings.

The new Constitution replaces the outdated Constitution of 1988, and includes a bill of rights. This will allow people to complain in the local courts on human rights issues, instead of having to go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Among other changes under the new Constitution, the Governor’s power has been limited in a number of areas as have the powers of senior officials and the Administration, while more power has been entrusted to elected Councillors.

Symbolically, the Governor will no longer hold the title ‘Commander in Chief’.

Public Relations/Information Office

Office of the Chief Secretary, 2nd September 2009

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{1} Though there does not seem to be any timetable for how quickly such a change must be made.

{2} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.


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