Debunking the myth of the Westminster-Whitehall model
Part 2 (a)
The aim in this series is to show that Trinidad and Tobago’s political system, from 1961, is better explained by its domestic context and developments elsewhere, than by the received assumption of the transplantation of the so-called Westminster model, or, as more recently, the Westminster-Whitehall model, suitably modified.
In Part 1 (September 9 & 16), the development of the myth of the Westminster model was traced to show how it emerged in Britain and was received without question in former colonies. Its intellectual inadequacy is now acknowledged within UWI, however, with its replacement by the more recent concept of the assumed transplantation locally of the so-called Westminster-Whitehall model, suitably modified.
How has this Westminster-Whitehall model emerged? Academic interest in T&T’s approach to bicameralism has certainly become noticeable, since my contributions in the local press on the topic in 1989, disputing the received assumption about the Westminster model. And having been for ages a lone voice on the issue, it is comforting to note the eventual rejection of that assumption within UWI at St Augustine.
Plagiarism considerations aside for the time being, the new approach is confirmed in the efforts to promote an alternative concept to explain our constitutional development. It could, of course, be pure coincidence that a copy of my thesis, refuting the concept of the transplantation of the so-called Westminster model, focusing specifically on bicameralism, was obtained at St Augustine in 2003 and that the new model was unveiled in 2004.
“Changing our Constitution” has been a clear clarion call, enlisting UWI as its launching-pad, for constitution reform, avowedly looking beyond the so-called Westminster model. And the search on the horizon was obviously prompted by the not unreasonable premise that any analysis of such reform “must include an appreciation of the constitutional model adopted and the main features of the system”.
Apparently, the model unearthed provided a completely unique system of government. It was announced, moreover, that in “identifying and describing that…system…and the legislative institutions that were created and subsequently retained, we can confirm the creation of the Westminster-Whitehall Model in the Commonwealth Caribbean”. What does Hamid Ghany mean by this model and what, more importantly, are claimed to be its main features?
It quickly becomes all too obvious that the challenges in addressing these questions are no less problematic than those arising with the so-called Westminster Model. Thus, it is asserted that this Westminster-Whitehall Model “had all of the hallmarks of Westminster in titles of offices, etc., but not the exact structures and functions”. Out go, then, T&T’s House of Representatives and Senators, not to mention, with respect, the President, for starters!
For want of space, a close examination of just the first two of its five features, as helpfully outlined, are very illuminating about the dubious pedigree of the notion of the Westminster-Whitehall Model. The first entails “the inclusion of a Bill of Rights in the Constitution…which does not exist in the Westminster model, notwithstanding the Bill of Rights of 1998 in the United Kingdom”.
In fact, since 1689 — not 1998 — Britain has had a Bill of Rights, which, as was observed in 2005 by Lord Woolf, its Chief Justice then, formed the written part of its Constitution, together with the Petition of Right (1628), the Habeas Corpus Act (1679), the Act of Settlement (1701), and, it may be added, the ancient Magna Carta (the Great Charter) and the less well known Charter of the Forest (the Little Charter) of 1215. More recent, of course, is the Human Rights Act of 1998, which is not a Bill of Rights, as it is wrongly referred to in the very first feature of the so-called Westminster-Whitehall Model!
According to the second feature, there exists, in the Commonwealth Caribbean apparently, a unique bicameral system in eight of the 12 independent states. Quite apart from raising questions as to the system(s) in the other four states, this is to infer in eight of them, without more, the same misleading systemic uniformity implied in the received assumptions about the Westminster Model.
This approach ignores, for example, a crucial difference between the Senate of T&T and of Jamaica. In the latter, the number of opposition Senators is unusually high. This, according to Edward Seaga, a former prime minister and opposition leader, is the Jamaican Senate’s saving grace, its inherent veto power on constitution proposals (apart from entrenchment otherwise).
The reasons for this are to be located in the dynamics of Jamaica’s vibrant two-party system, when its constitution was framed. Of significance here is that Dr Williams’ specific advice in 1963 to Dr Jagan on a constitution for British Guiana, as it was then, was to introduce a Senate like T&T’s in preference to Jamaica’s, without any reference by him at all to Westminster.
This is surprising, if Dr Williams was indeed one of Westminster’s great admirers and in favour of the importation of its system to the region, as maintained in the supporting narrative of the so-called Westminster-Whitehall model. What are the dominant themes informing this narrative? This is the main issue to be explored in Part 2(b)
* Rawle Boland is a barrister
and political scientist
— This is the third in a 10-article
series that appears in
the Express on Mondays