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Barbados: The Governmental System
Country Study > Chapter 5 > Government and Politics > The Governmental System


At independence in November 1966, Barbados formally adopted the Westminster parliamentary system of government, with a governor general representing the British monarch. Rights and privileges accorded to the governor in 1652 by Britain formed the basis for the Constitution of 1966, which provides for a bicameral parliamentary system headed by a prime minister and cabinet.

Under the Constitution, Parliament consists of the British monarch, represented by the governor general, the Senate, and the House of Assembly. The governor general is appointed by the monarch and serves at the monarch's pleasure. Although the governor general must act in accordance with the advice of the cabinet or one of its ministers, the governor general has considerable influence and is responsible for appointing judges, commissioners, and senators and for voting in the Senate if there is a tie. The governor general presides at all meetings of the Privy Council for Barbados, an appointed body whose duties include the right to review punishments and grant pardons.

Executive authority in Barbados rests with the governor general, the prime minister, and a cabinet of at least five ministers. The prime minister is by far the most powerful figure in the executive and within the cabinet. The prime minister chooses the cabinet ministers and may dismiss them at will. The cabinet, which is responsible to Parliament, is the principal instrument of policy and is charged with direction and control of the government, but the personality, style, and popularity of the prime minister largely determine the direction of government.

The Constitution provides for a House of Assembly of twentyfour members or as many as Parliament may prescribe. The number was increased to twenty-seven before the 1981 elections. Members are elected by universal suffrage and must be over twenty-one years of age. The leader of the majority in the House of Assembly is appointed prime minister by the governor general. The minority leader becomes leader of the opposition. The term of office is five years, but elections may be called at any time by the ruling party, and an election must be called in case of a vote of no confidence. During the first twenty years of Barbadian history, all of its governments remained in power until the five-year limit.

The Senate is a wholly appointed body. Senators must be citizens of Barbados over the age of twenty-one; twelve are appointed on the advice of the prime minister, two on the advice of the leader of the opposition, and the remaining seven at the governor general's discretion. The Senate elects its own president and deputy president and has a quorum of eight plus the presiding officer.

Bills may be introduced in either house with the exception of money bills, which must be introduced in the elected House of Assembly. A bill becomes law after it has passed both houses and has been signed by the governor general.

Barbados' judiciary includes the Supreme Court, which consists of the High Court and the Court of Appeal. The chief justice is appointed by the governor general after consultation with the prime minister and the leader of the opposition; the other judges who make up the court are appointed on the advice of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission. Judges serve until the age of sixty-five; in case of vacancies, the governor general has the authority to appoint acting judges who serve until the appropriate consultations have been made. Appeals from decisions made by the High Court may be made to the three-judge Court of Appeal. The highest appeal is to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London.

Under the Constitution, a number of public service commissions- -including the Judicial and Legal Service Commission, the Public Service Commission, and the Police Commission -- oversee government acts. All of the commissioners are appointed by the governor general after consultation with the prime minister and the leader of the opposition.

Data as of November 1987

Last Updated: November 1987

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Barbados was first published in 1987. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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