UPDATE: Trinidad & Tobago Law and Legal Research

By Catherine A. Deane

Catherine A. Deane is the Bay Area Research Specialist for Shearman & Sterling LLP. She received her primary and secondary education in Trinidad. She has a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology with a Certificate in Latin American Studies from Princeton University, an M.A. in Cultural Anthropology and a J.D. with a Certificate in International and Comparative Law from the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma, and an M.L.I.S. degree from San Jose State University, School of Library and Information Science.

Published January/February 2020

(Previously updated by Catherine A. Deane, Kamau F. Osborne and Vincent Moyer in April/May 2015)

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction to Trinidad & Tobago Legal Research

This guide outlines in detail the various resources available for researching the laws and legal system of the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago. As a quick introduction, here are key research websites for locating Trinidad & Tobago laws:

2. Background and History

The Republic of Trinidad & Tobago, formerly a British colony, is now an independent member of the British Commonwealth. Christopher Columbus encountered and named the islands in 1498. They were occupied briefly by the Spanish until it was captured in 1797 by the British, who brought African slaves to Trinidad and later invited Indian indentured laborers to the island.

The British ruled Trinidad & Tobago under the Crown Colony System from 1831-1925. Under this system, a Governor advised by a resident legislative council ruled the island for the British government. By 1956, Trinidad & Tobago had established a form of self-government under colonial rule, but it was not until 1976, that Trinidad & Tobago became a self-governing republic.

2.1. Political and Legal History Resources

2.2. Basic Country Information Sources

2.3. Human Rights

3. Government Structure

The current government structure of Trinidad & Tobago is a parliamentary democracy consisting of the executive branch, made up of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, and the legislative branch, made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The members of the House of Representatives and the Senate elect the President of Trinidad & Tobago. Tobago has a separate elected House of Assembly that is responsible for the administration of the island. National elections occur every five years.

The Judicial branch is a separate branch, led by the Chief Justice. The Trinidad & Tobago Judiciary is made up of the Lower Judiciary (the Magistracy) and the Higher Judiciary (The Supreme Court). The Supreme Court is made up of the High Court and the Court of Appeal. The highest court is the Privy Council in England. See Basic Information on the System of Government in Trinidad & Tobago, provided by the government of Trinidad & Tobago. See also the Diagram of Government Organization Structure from the Office of the President and Organizational Structure of the Central Government from the National Library and Information System Authority (NALIS).

4. Executive Branch: The Prime Minister and the Cabinet

The Executive Branch includes the Cabinet, Ministries and Departments of Government, statutory authorities and governmental institutions. The Prime Minister is a member of the Cabinet. See the Office of the Prime Minister’s official website for more information.

After an election, the President appoints as Prime Minister the member of the House of Representatives who commands the support of the majority of members of that House. On the advice of the Prime Minister, the President appoints members of the House of Representatives and the Senate to the Cabinet. The Cabinet controls the government of Trinidad & Tobago and is responsible to Parliament. They implement the laws passed by Parliament.

The Cabinet consists of the Prime Minister, who is appointed by the President and other ministers (of whom one shall be the Attorney General) chosen from among the members of the House of Representatives and the Senators appointed by the President acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister. The President, acting on the advice of the Prime Minister, may assign any Minister responsibility for any business of the government including the administration of any department of government.

The functions of the Cabinet are initiating and deciding on policy. The exercise of these functions is initially affected by the fact that the Cabinet is a group of party representatives, depending upon majority support in the House of Representatives. The Cabinet meets in private and its proceedings are confidential. Normally, Cabinet meets for a few hours once a week and these meetings take place at the Office of the Prime Minister, Whitehall.

The Cabinet Secretariat serves Ministers collectively in the conduct of Cabinet business and the co-ordination of policy at the highest level. Ministerial responsibility refers both to the collective responsibility for government policy and actions, which Ministers have and to their individual responsibilities for their departments’ work.

The doctrine of collective responsibility means that the Cabinet acts unanimously even when Cabinet Ministers do not all agree on a subject. The individual responsibility of Ministers for the work of their departments means that they are answerable to Parliament for matters pertaining to their departments.

4.1. Executive Branch: Documents

Many important executive branch legal documents are available on the websites below:

5. Legislative Branch: Parliament – The House of Representatives and the Senate

The Parliament of Trinidad & Tobago is the legislative branch of the Government. The President, the House of Representatives and the Senate make up Parliament. The President is the Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.

5.1. Legislative Process: Making Laws

A bill may be initiated in either the House or the Senate. The bill must pass through both the House and the Senate and must be presented to the President for approval. The President’s assent converts the bill into an Act of the Parliament of the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago. See The Process of Lawmaking, a detailed description prepared by the Parliament Secretariat.

5.2. Parliament: Structure & Legal Documents

Although technically the Parliament consists of three parts – the President, the House of Representatives and the Senate – Parliament is still referred to as bicameral because it is divided into the Lower House (House of Representatives) and the Upper House (Senate). The House of Representatives is made up of 41 elected representatives; the members of the Senate are appointed by the President.

The Parliament has the power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of Trinidad & Tobago in accordance with the Constitution.

The Office of Parliament provides online access to Trinidad & Tobago bills, acts and laws:

The Office of the Parliament provides online access to information regarding what occurred during sittings of the House of Representatives and the Senate between 1990 and the present.

The Office of Parliament also provides digital access to other publications such as:

5.3. The House of Representatives: Structure & Legal Documents

The House of Representatives, the elected Lower House, has 41 members, elected every five years. The Speaker of the House may or may not be an elected member of the House of Representatives. The House of Representatives may be dissolved prior to the five-year election date by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister.

For the current session of Parliament, the full text of multiple versions of bills and Committee Reports are available online from the House of Representatives:

5.4. The Senate: Structure & Legal Documents

The members of the Senate are appointed by the President. Of the 31 members, 16 are Government Senators and are appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister. Six (6) are Opposition Senators appointed on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition and nine (9) are Independent Senators. The President is charged with selecting and appointing senators who will be representative of Trinidad & Tobago civil society. The presiding officer is known as the President of the Senate.

6. The Tobago House of Assembly (THA)

The THA first met in 1768, but it was not until 1980 that the first Tobago House of Assembly Act was passed. This act grants the citizens of Tobago the right of internal self-governance. The new Tobago House of Assembly Act, passed on 1996, granted the THA greater autonomy in political, financial and social issues, but no lawmaking powers. The Presiding Officer is elected by the Assemblymen and presides over all Sittings of the Assembly. Local elections for the THA take place every 4 years.

7. Judicial Branch: Structure, Decisions, and Other Court Documents

The Judicial branch is one of the three separate arms of the State. The head of the judicial branch is the Chief Justice, who has overall responsibility for the administration of justice in Trinidad & Tobago.

7.1. Privy Council

The highest court is the Privy Council in England. The Judicial Committee of The Privy Council (JCPC) is the court of final appeal for the UK overseas territories and Crown dependencies, and for those Commonwealth countries that have retained the appeal to Her Majesty in Council or, in the case of Republics, to the Judicial Committee.

Judicial Committee of the Privy Council Decided Cases:

While there has been much debate about cutting links with the Privy Council, on April 25, 2012, Prime Minister the Honourable Kamla Persad-Bissessar released a statement outlining Trinidad & Tobago’s relationship with the Privy Council and the Caribbean Court of Justice [see the official text of the speech].

On April 16, 2005, the The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) was inaugurated at a ceremony in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago (see the agreement establishing the CCJ). The CCJ has two jurisdictions: an original and an appellate jurisdiction. In its original jurisdiction, it interprets and applies the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (PDF) which established the Caribbean Community and is an international court with compulsory and exclusive jurisdiction in interpreting the Treaty of Chaguaramas. In its appellate jurisdiction, it hears appeals in both civil and criminal matters from those member states, which have ceased to allow appeals to the JCPC.

The CCJ is not part of the Judiciary of Trinidad & Tobago. Appeals from the Trinidad & Tobago Court of Appeal go to the Privy Council (JCPC) in England.

7.2. Judiciary of the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago

The Judiciary is composed of the Supreme Court of Judicature and the Lower Judiciary (the Magistracy). The Supreme Court of Judicature for Trinidad & Tobago consists of a High Court of Justice and a Court of Appeal. Appeals from the Magistracy and the High Court go to the Court of Appeal. The Magistracy and the High Court are courts of original jurisdiction.

The High Court is made up of three divisions: The Matrimonial Division (hears family matters where the partners are married), the Criminal Division (hears indictable criminal matters), and the Civil Division (hears matters involving sums $15,000 and over).

The Magistracy is divided geographically into thirteen districts. The Criminal Division exercises summary jurisdiction in criminal matters and hears preliminary inquiries in indictable matters. The Civil Division hears matters under $15,000.

The Court Library Services Unit pages on the official website for the Judiciary of the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago provide information about:

Various case law, orders, rules and court documents can be found at these websites:

7.3. The Court Library Services Unit

The Court Library Services Unit has six branches. The main branch, The Supreme Court Library, Port-of-Spain, is housed on the third floor of the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. The Supreme Court Library has the most comprehensive collection of unreported decisions of the Supreme Court of Trinidad & Tobago. The main online Court Library research resources are now available at the Judiciary website.

One copy of every judgment received is placed in the Special Judgment Collection Alphabetical File, in the Port-of-Spain Supreme Court Library. In print, the library carries cases from the 1950’s to the present. All judgments received by the Unit since 1990 have been recorded in the online catalog. Links to some electronic copies of the decisions are available by searching the Library’s online case database using the same online catalog search interface

Research assistance requests are considered by the Court Law Library on a case-by-case basis, and some information can be provided via fax. Information that is already in electronic format may be sent via email. Judgments can be requested from the courts via email or fax.

The Court Library Services Unit’s Online Catalog contains records of books, articles, and judgments. More specifically, the online catalog contains:

7.4. The Industrial Court of Trinidad & Tobago

The Industrial Court is a superior court similar in status to the High Court. It was established in 1965 by the Industrial Stabilisation Act. This act was then repealed and replaced by the 1972 Industrial Relations Act as amended). The purpose of the court is to settle unresolved disputes between employers and trade unions representing the workers.

See the official court website for decisions, procedures, court documents and court history: Jurisdiction Administrative Departments

7.5. The Environmental Commission of Trinidad & Tobago

A tribunal to be known as the Environmental Commission was established by the Environmental Management Act of Trinidad & Tobago in 2000 for the purpose of exercising the jurisdiction conferred upon it by this Act or by any other written law. Environmental Management Act (Act No. 3 of 2000), Part VIII - Environmental Commission (Sections 81-88).

8. Constitution

Between 1945 and 1962, the Constitution of Trinidad & Tobago underwent six reforms. The 1962 Constitution, drafted by Sir Ellis Clarke, is referred to as the Independence Constitution and is considered by the government of Trinidad & Tobago to be the first written Constitution. It was reformed in 1976 and became the Republican Constitution, which is still in force.

Concerned that the Constitution does not meet the political needs of the multicultural society of Trinidad & Tobago, the government has once again initiated constitutional reform that is expected to facilitate a more effective democratic system of government. As of January 2013, there was also talk of a constitutional amendment to grant increased autonomy for Tobago.

9. Archived Historical Legal Documents

There are various collections (e.g. the Digital Library of the Caribbean) of historical archived Trinidad & Tobago legal documents including the following:

The National Archives of Trinidad & Tobago (NATT) maintain several collections that may be of interest to legal scholars. Online, NATT provides a searchable catalog of records showing the available years and the location of each item. Some preliminary research assistance may be provided for foreign researchers, but full access to the collection requires a visit to the local reading room.

One NATT law collection is the Laws of Trinidad & Tobago (1884-1998) - This is a historical collection of the laws of Trinidad & Tobago. This collection also includes laws that were created with the intention of using them to govern the West Indian Federation of ten (10) islands of the region. This grouping was conceived in 1958 but never came to pass.

The NATT also houses:

10. Online Legal Information Sources

10.1. Paid Subscription Law Database

Justis: CariLaw - Online subscription database containing the full text of more than 53,000 cases.

10.2. Government Legal Information Online

Trinidad & Tobago has an e-government portal called ttconnect with links to nearly every government office or government ministry available online including the official websites for Parliament, the Prime Minister, the President, and the Courts.The website for the Office of the President may also be of interest.

The most recent data available through Internet World Stats indicates that as of June 30, 2016, 77.2 % of the 1.2 million peoplein Trinidad & Tobago had access to the Internet. Trinidad & Tobago's e-government portal allows citizens to access a wide range of government services via a single government portal. Although many of the services are available online, the website carries detailed information on how to access government services via mail or in person.

Other important government links to laws and legal information include:

10.3. Legal Information by Subject

There are several databases that contain laws on a certain topic for many countries. These include The World Intellectual Property Organization’s WIPO Lex database and the International Labour Organization’s database of labor laws. However, the Digital Legislative Library has current laws as well as prior versions and amendments and so the links below are to this database as it is likely to be updated more often than the WIPOLex and the ILO databases. The international databases should be considered a back-up plan if for some reason the Digital Legislative Library is unavailable.

Consumer Protection Law

Environmental Law

Legislation, Regulations and Case Law

Select Judgments from High Court

Select Judgments from the Environmental Commission: For judgments, please contact Erica Beache, Librarian for the Environmental Commission at erica.beache@ec.gov.tt.

Select Judgments from Privy Council

Intellectual Property Law

Labor Law

Privacy & Data Protection Law

Trade & Business Law

11. Print Sources of Legal Information

11.1. Law Journals

11.2. Law Books

The main publishers of legal books with relevance to Trinidad & Tobago law areThe Caribbean Law Publishing Co. Ltd. and Routledge Law Publishers. The Commonwealth Caribbean Law Seriescovers English speaking Caribbean nations including Trinidad & Tobago.

The official Ian Randle Publishers websitehas a section with books on Caribbean law topics.

11.3. Selected Subject Bibliography

Administrative Law

Business & Corporate Law

Civil Procedure

Constitutional Law & Constitutional Reform

Contract Law

Criminal Procedure

Employment and Labour Law

Environmental Law

Family Law

Insurance Law

Intellectual Property

Law of the Sea

Legal System

Legal Profession


Politics & Government

Real Property Law

Sports Law

Tort Law


Trust Law

12. Sources of General Information

12.1. Statistics and Government Information

12.2. The National Library and Information System Authority (NALIS)

NALIS provides library services including providing access to information on Trinidad & Tobago. NALIS has an online catalog and a series of subject guides on local topics related to the history, culture and government of Trinidad & Tobago.

NALIS of Trinidad & Tobago maintains a Digital Library that provides access to:

NALIS also provides access to:

12.3. The National Archives of Trinidad & Tobago (NATT)

The National Archives of Trinidad & Tobago (NATT) is the repository for permanent records and archives of the Government as well as historical records of national significance.

12.4. Ministry of Public Administration and Communications

Taking over the work of the now defunct Government Information Service Limited (GISL), the Ministry of Public Administration and Communications provides news on the government.

Government News Sources

12.5. Newspapers

It is known in Trinidad & Tobago that the accuracy of the information in these newspapers is not guaranteed.

12.6. Other News Sources: Trinidad & Tobago Online Video, Radio & Twitter

Several Trinidad & Tobago television stations are viewable online including:

Online news sources on Twitter :

13. Other Resources

13.1. Legal Education & Legal Profession

13.2. Trinidad & Tobago Legal Resource Guides

14. Additional Caribbean Legal Information