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T&T Constitutional Series: Parliament’s main function: to make laws
The Constitution provides for the Parliament of T&T which comprises the President, the Senate and House of Representatives. The parliament’s main function is the making of laws in the form of acts or regulations. It can also delegate some of its law making functions to named persons or bodies.
The Senate comprises 16 senators appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister, six senators appointed on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition and nine senators appointed by the President in his own judgment. The House of Representatives comprises 41 elected members.
Although the President does not sit in Parliament, he is responsible for the summoning, prorogation and dissolution of Parliament and also gives his assent to bills. Parliament has the power to amend or change the Constitution. In some cases a simple majority of the members voting in each house is all that is required. Other sections of the Constitution are considered to be “entrenched”. This means that they cannot be altered by a simple majority of votes in Parliament, but that a special majority is needed.
In some cases a two-thirds majority in both houses is required. The provisions which require a two-thirds majority to be changed include:
—the fundamental rights and freedoms sections;
—emergency powers sections;
—procedure for appointment of judges;
—provisions relating to Service Commissions;
—pension benefits of key office holders;
—provisions for removing the chief justice and judges.
In other cases there is a deeper level of entrenchment. In such cases the amendment being put forward must be supported by the votes of not less than three-quarters of the votes in the House of Representatives and two-thirds of all of the members of the Senate.
The relevant sections needing this level of support include:
—any change to the entrenchment section itself;
—changes to the way of selecting the President;
—immunities of the President;
—composition of the Senate;
—composition of the House of Representatives;
—qualifications of voters;
—introduction of bills;
—frequency of holding general elections;
—composition of the Elections and Boundaries Commission;
—procedure for review of constituency boundaries;
—powers of pardon;
—appointment of the DPP;
—functions of the ombudsman;
—removal of the Privy Council as the final appeal court;
—sections concerning the Integrity Commission.
Members of Parliament, generally, cannot be sued or criminal charges cannot be brought for things said in Parliament or stated in reports related to the work of the Parliament. Ministers may attend the sittings of either House and take part in debates but cannot vote in the House to which they are not a member.
The powers of both Houses are similar. An important difference concerns bills relating to money. The House of Representatives may override the Senate if it delays in passing a money bill or in certain cases if the Senate it does not pass it.
This column is not legal advice. If you have a legal problem you should consult a legal adviser.
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