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Office of the President
This week we look at the office of President. Chapter 3 of the Constitution provides for the election of a President who shall be the Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.
Election and term
A person is qualified to be President if he or she is a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, is over 35 years and has been residing here for at least ten years before. The Speaker of the House of Representatives is responsible for conducting the elections to this office.
Where there is a vacancy or where one is expected (for example near the end of a term), the Speaker convenes the electoral college. This consists of all of the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives. People are nominated and a secret ballot is held. Where only one person is nominated, the Speaker certifies the election of that person. The elected person holds office for a term of five years.
In carrying out his functions, the President generally acts in keeping with the advice of the Cabinet or a minister who is acting under the authority of the Cabinet. The exceptions to this rule are where the Constitution or a law requires him to act:
• in his discretion
• after consultation with a person or body other than the Cabinet
• on the advice of a person or body other than the Cabinet.
Where the President is required to act on the advice of or after consultation with any person or body, the question whether he has so acted cannot be enquired into in any court. The Constitution provides that the President acts in his “own deliberate judgment”:
• in appointing the Prime Minister
• in appointing the Leader of the Opposition.
The President may be removed from office where:
• he wilfully violates any provision of the Constitution
• he behaves in such a way to bring his office into hatred, ridicule or contempt
• he behaves to endanger the security of the State
• because of physical or mental incapacity, he is unable to perform the functions of the office.
The procedure for removal is set out in Section 36 of the Constitution. Upon the adoption of the necessary motion and resolution under Section 36 the office becomes vacant and the Senate President acts until a new President is elected.
Under Section 38, the President is not answerable to any court for the performance of the functions of his office or for acts done in the performance of those functions. Without the direction and permission of the Director of Public Prosecutions no proceedings shall be started or continued against the President during his term of office and no process for his arrest or imprisonment shall be issued by the court or executed during his term of office.
No civil action can be brought against the President in his personal capacity during his term of office unless a notice giving details of the claim is served at his office at least two months before the claim is brought.
• This column is not legal advice. If you have a legal problem you should consult a legal adviser
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