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Constitution, Government & Legislation | Courts & Judgments | Legal Profession
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map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for enlargement Constitution, Government & Legislation Haitian heads of state have often drafted and abolished the nation's constitutions at will, treating the documents as their own personal charters. However, when the 1987 Constitution replaced the Duvalierist 1983 constitution, the popular referendum that ratified the Constitution was free and fair; it demonstrated widespread support for the new document. Nevertheless, subsequent governments have not taken the provisions of the Constitution seriously.

The 1987 Constitution is a modern, progressive, democratic document. It guarantees a series of basic rights to the citizenry. It declares the intent to establish democracy in Haiti, and it includes ideological pluralism, electoral competition, and the separation of powers. Several provisions seek to reshape the system and the political tradition bequeathed to the nation by the Duvaliers. In particular, the Constitution reduces the president's constitutional powers, decentralizes governmental authority, and establishes elected councils for local government. Police and army functions are disaggregated. The Constitution also establishes an independent judiciary and subordinates military personnel to civilian courts in all cases that involve civilians. Under the Constitution, individuals are barred from public office for ten years if they have served as "architects" of the Duvalierist dictatorship, enriched themselves from public funds, inflicted torture on political prisoners, or committed political assassinations. The Constitution abolishes the death penalty and focuses on the protection of civil rights through detailed restrictions on the arrest and the detainment of citizens. It calls for the establishment of a career civil service based on merit and for job security, and it recognizes both Creole and French as official languages.

The Constitution establishes three major branches of government--legislative, executive, and judicial--and notes that these branches are essential to a civil state and that they must be independent of each other. Legislative powers are vested in two chambers, the House of Deputies and the Senate. Deputies and senators are elected by direct suffrage. Deputies represent municipalities (or communes), and senators represent geographic departments.

In the executive branch, the president of the republic serves as head of state. A prime minister, chosen by the president from the majority party in the legislature, heads the government. Other components of the executive branch include cabinet ministers and secretaries of state.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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Courts & Judgments The Haitian Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, it is not independent in practice. Years of rampant corruption and governmental neglect have left the judicial system poorly organized and nearly moribund. The Constitution sets varying periods of tenure for judges above the level of justice of the peace. However, in practice the Ministry of Justice exercises appointment and administrative oversight of the judiciary, prosecutors, and court staff. The Ministry of Justice can remove justices of the peace and occasionally dismisses judges above this level as well.

At the lowest level of the justice system, the justices of the peace issue warrants, adjudicate minor infractions, mediate cases, take depositions, and refer cases to prosecutors or higher judicial officials. Investigating magistrates and public prosecutors cooperate in the development of more serious cases, which are tried by the judges of the first instance courts. Appeals court judges hear cases referred from the first instance courts, and the Supreme Court deals with questions of procedure and constitutionality.

The judicial apparatus follows a civil law system based on the Napoleonic Code; the Criminal Code dates from 1832, although it has been amended in some instances. The Constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial; however, this right was abridged widely in practice. The Constitution also expressly denies police and judicial authorities the right to interrogate persons charged with a crime unless the suspect has legal counsel or a representative of his of her choice present or waives this right; however, this right was abridged in practice. While trials are public, most accused persons cannot afford legal counsel for interrogation or trial, and the law does not require that the Government provide legal representation.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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