Journal Article

Bicameralism in small states: the experience of the Commonwealth Caribbean


Almost half of the bicameral legislatures in the Commonwealth are located in the Commonwealth Caribbean. Why so many bicameral legislatures are located in a relatively small geographic region, which is composed of countries that manifest characteristics more usually associated with unicameralism – small size, a unitary state, and homogeneity – is puzzling. Scholars have offered two possible explanations. The first concerns the presumed wish of the region’s political leaders upon independence to replicate the values and institutions of their colonial mentor, Britain. The second concerns the presumed need to prevent one-party dominance by guaranteeing the representation of opposition parties in the second chamber. This paper challenges both these explanations. By examining the origins of bicameralism in the region with the arrival of the first settlers in the seventeenth century, its demise during the era of crown colony rule in the nineteenth century, its renaissance in the 1950s and 1960s, and its survival in the post-independence era this paper will offer a more multi-layered explanation This entails taking account of the complex relationship between these former colonies and their imperial past, the wide range of views expressed both locally and within the Colonial Office about the suitability of bicameralism in the debates that accompanied the transition from colonial rule to independence, and, finally, the very distinctive nature of Caribbean bicameralism.

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O'Brien, Derek

Oxford Brookes departments

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences\School of Law


Year of publication: 2018
Date of RADAR deposit: 2018-08-16

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