St Kitts and Nevis is a constitutional monarchy and sovereign democratic federal state, with Queen Elizabeth II at its head, who is represented by a governor-general. The governor-general acts on the advice of the prime minister, who is the leader of the majority in the National Assembly and, together with a cabinet, conducts the affairs of state.
The National Assembly is unicameral and has 14 members (plus the attorney-general if he or she is not an elected member). Eleven are elected for a five-year term by universal adult suffrage, one from each of eight constituencies in St Kitts and three in Nevis. The remaining three members are nominated ‘senators’, two appointed on the advice of the prime minister and one on the advice of the leader of the opposition.
Nevis has its own legislature, premier and administration. The Nevis legislature, the Nevis Island Assembly, has five members elected by universal adult suffrage as well as three nominated members.
The judicial system is modelled on British practice and procedure like its neighbours in the English-speaking Caribbean.
The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court was established (as the West Indies Associated States Supreme Court) in 1967 with its headquarters in Castries in St Lucia, and is responsible for the administration of justice in its member states including St Kitts and Nevis. It comprises the High Court of Justice and the Court of Appeal.
The High Court has 16 judges, two of whom are permanently resident in the country and sit in the court of summary jurisdiction. Less serious cases are heard in magistrates’ courts. The Court of Appeal is itinerant. The High Court’s jurisdiction includes fundamental rights and freedoms, and constitutional issues.
Once known as the Gibraltar of the West Indies, the islands of St Kitts and Nevis were originally settled from South America. St Kitts was first sighted by Christopher Columbus in 1493.
From 1816 the islands were administered, along with Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands, as a single colony and from 1871 as part of the Leeward Islands Federation. St Kitts and Nevis had internal self-government from 1976 and achieved independence in 1983.
The St Kitts-Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP) held power from 1967 until it was defeated in 1980 by a coalition of the People’s Action Party (PAM) and Nevis Reformation Party (NRP), and PAM’s Dr Kennedy Alphonse Simmonds became prime minister.
Dr Denzil Douglas and the SKNLP were returned to power in the general election of October 2004. In 2010 the SKNLP won its fourth consecutive general election.