Did the Virgin Islands have a constitution before it’s present one?
From as early as in the 1700s, the Territory of the Virgin Islands has experienced constitutional reform in one way or the other. In rare cases, reform led to a less advanced constitution. Much depended on the Territory’s wider relationship with its sister islands in the Leeward Islands at the time, as well as the availability of human resources to carry out political as well as other administrative duties.
Briefly, the time line is as follows:
1735 - nominated council and legislative assembly set up but found to have been unlawful so the legislative assembly never met.
1774 - the first Legislative Council opened and was again reconstituted shortly after.
1867 - another law passed to reconstitute the legislative council - this time with all nominated members.
1902 - local council in the Virgin Islands was abolished by the Federal Legislature of the Leeward Islands - for the next 48 years, the Governor of the Leeward Islands assumed legislative authority for the Virgin Islands.
1950 – following the establishment in February of a committee to review legislation relating to the Legislative Council, a new constitution was adopted which reinstated the Legislative Council.
1954 – following a Constitutional Review in 1953, the Constitution and Election Ordinance 1954 created five electoral districts, dissolving the At-Large System. A new Legislative Council provided for eleven members with six elected members which could form a majority.
1956 - the dissolution of the Leeward Islands Federation meant that the Virgin Islands became a colony (moving up from a Presidency within the Leeward Islands Colony) with a direct relationship to the UK’s Secretary of States for the Colonies.
1967 - constitutional review in 1965 led to the Virgin Islands Constitution Order 1967 and a ministerial system of government. The first Chief Minister was appointed. The Governor was appointed by the monarch and given special responsibilities for external affairs, security, the public service, the courts, and finance, with reserved powers in regard to his special duties.
1976 - the Constitution Order 1976 (which became effective 1 June 1977) following 1973 constitutional review. The Order was distinctive in four areas: it removed nominated members from the Legislative Council; made finance a subject within the Chief Minister’s portfolio; changed the voting age from 21 to 18 years; and added two additional seats to the Legislative Council.
1994 - the British Government added a Territorial District to the nine electoral districts. The Territorial District sent four members to the Legislative Council increasing the membership to thirteen (13). Proxy voting was abolished. The elections in 1995 and 1999 demonstrated the beginnings of political party politics within the new mixed system.
2007 - the Virgin Islands Constitution Order 2007 established a new Constitution for the Virgin Islands to replace the Constitution of 1976. This followed a constitutional review in 2005. The new Constitution includes, for the first time, a chapter setting out the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual and provisions for their enforcement.
2022 - constitutional review commences.
More information can be found in the article entitled ‘Brief Outline of the Constitutional Development in the Virgin Islands’ here.