In the next few articles, we at Vanuatu Law will be talking to you about your rights as they are stated in the Constitution of Vanuatu.
What is the Constitution?
The Constitution of a country is usually the first law and the most important law of the country It tells the people what they can and cannot do. It establishes first and foremost every citizen’s fundamental rights and tells us how our Government, made up of the Parliament and the Judiciary are made up and supposed to work.
What are Fundamental Rights?
Your Fundamental Rights are rights which all the citizens of this country have under the Constitution. They are the most basic rights coming out of natural law. They are rights recognised by the court as demanding a high degree of protection from abuses, especially of Governments.
What is Natural Law?
Natural Law says that there are rights which every human being is born with by virtue of being human and these rights it is said are usually handed down by God or some higher power.
What are your Fundamental Rights under the Constitution?
- The right to Life;
- The right to Liberty;
- The right to Security of the Person;
- The Right to Protection of the Law;
- The right to Freedom from Inhuman Treatment and Forced Labour;
- The right to Freedom of Conscience and Worship;
- The right to Freedom of Expression;
- The right to Freedom of Assembly and Association;
- The right to Freedom of Movement;
- The right to Protection for the Privacy of the Home and other Property and from unjust deprivation of property;
- The right to Equal Treatment under the Law or Administrative action, except that no Law shall be inconsistent with this sub-paragraph insofar as it makes provision for the special benefit, welfare, protection or advancement of females, children and young persons, members of under-privileged groups or inhabitants of less developed areas.
Protection of the law shall include the following –
- Everyone charged with an offence shall have a fair hearing, within a reasonable time, by an independent and impartial court and be afforded a lawyer if it is a serious offence;
- Everyone is presumed innocent until a court establishes his guilt according to law;
- Everyone charged shall be informed promptly in a language he understands of the offence with which he is being charged;
- If an accused does not understand the language to be used in the proceedings he shall be provided with an interpreter throughout the proceedings;
- A person shall not be tried in his absence without his consent unless he makes it impossible for the court to proceed in his absence;
- No one shall be convicted in respect of an act or omission which did not constitute an offence known to written or custom law at the time it was committed;
- No one shall be punished with a greater penalty than that which exists at the time of the commission of the offence;
- No person who has been pardoned, or tried and convicted or acquitted, shall be tried again for the same offence or any other offence of which he could have been convicted at his trial.
These rights are written out exactly as they appear in the Constitution. The next few articles will explain in simple terms what each of these rights mean.
What if one or more than one of your rights has been breached?
If you believe that one of these rights or more than one of these rights has been infringed upon or is likely to be infringed upon or is being infringed upon by the Government or a person or group of persons or an institution or organisation you may apply to the Supreme Court to enforce that right. And even though you may file a Constitutional action against that person or group of persons this does not prevent you from filing any other civil claim for damages which you may be entitled to.
What can the Court do if you file a Constitutional action?
If you file such an action the court can make any other orders it considers appropriate, issue any other directions, including payment of compensation to you in order to enforce your right.
It is important that every citizen of this country read the Constitution so that they can know and understand their rights better. They can know and understand about how their Government works better for it is in knowing that we can stand up for ourselves and hold our political representatives, Judges and Public Servants accountable for what they do and don’t do.
A copy of the Constitution written in Bislama or French can be found on the paclii website online.
DISCLAIMER – This is a legal column to provide basic information on the law and court procedure. It is not to be used as a substitute for legal advice but to be used only as a starting point in understanding what you might need and what you might need to do.