Upon initial consideration, one would presume that the United States Constitution and the Constitution of Jamaica would not be similar at all. After all, the United States Constitution was ratified in 1787, whereas the Jamaican Constitution was not ratified until 1962, the year Jamaica gained its independence. At first glance, Jamaica's constitution appears to be most similar to that of England, because they both establish a parliament and share the same chief of state (Queen Elizabeth II). These similarities are understandable considering the United Kingdom owned Jamaica until Jamaica gained its independence in 1962. But if one digs deeper into Jamaica's constitution, the many resemblances with the United States Constitution begin to surface.
The Constitution of Jamaica was drafted by a bipartisan joint committee of the Jamaican legislature from 1961 to 1962. It was "approved in the United Kingdom and included as the Second Schedule of the Jamaica (Constitution) Order in Council, under the West Indies Act" (Politics of Jamaica). The document came into effect with the Jamaica Independence Act of 1962, which gave Jamaica political independence. The Laws of Jamaica exist under the Jamaican Constitution of 1962. Except for the entrenched sections, the constitution may be altered by a majority of all the members of each of the two Houses of Parliament. The constitution states the rules regarding the executive, the legislature, a judicature and the public service. It contains provisions relating to Jamaican citizenship and to the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual. The United States and Jamaican constitutions are comparable in terms of their respective organizations of government, election methods, establishment of fundamental rights and freedoms.
Jamaica is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. The fusion of United States and England's governments is apparent simply from this name, with democracy relating to the U.S. and the parliament legislative system originating from England. Similarly to the U.S. Constitution, the Constitution of Jamaica creates three primary branches of government: executive, legislative (parliament), and judicial. Under this system of government, the principal leader of the executive branch is the head of the state. The current Jamaican head of state is Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, who is given the title of "Queen of Jamaica". The United States Constitution does not establish a political figure that is similar to the Queen of Jamaica. The U.S. President serves a different purpose than the Queen and gains his political status through election rather than inheriting the throne. Instead, the U.S. President is most like the Jamaican Prime Minister.
The Jamaican Prime Minister is the most important member of the cabinet and the acknowledged leader of the majority party. Just like the United States President and his cabinet, the Prime Minister and his cabinet are responsible for the legislature powers and represent the principal instrument of governmental policy.
The Queen is represented by a Governor-general, who is appointed by the Prime Minister. The Governor-general is "given authority, as the representative of the Queen, to name the date of a general election, to appoint Ministers and assign them responsibilities to appoint Parliamentary Secretaries, the Attorney General, Senators, Privy Councilors, the Chief Justice, the President of the Court of Appeal, the Director of Public Prosecutions and members of the Services Commissions" (In a Nutshell
The Jamaica Constitution). The Governor-general serves a similar purpose in the Jamaican government than the Vice President of the United States. Both assist and represent their respective country's top executive official.
The Jamaican legislative branch exists under England's parliamentary system. The Parliament is bicameral, consisting of a House of Representatives and a Senate. Jamaica's Constitution gives Parliament "the power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of Jamaica" (In a Nutshell: the Jamaica Constitution). As with the U.S., bills may be introduced by any member of either house, and approved by both houses. The existence of an upper house (Senate) in both Constitutions permits useful participation in public affairs to those who might not wish to run for election. Senate also encourages the patronage offerings of the major political parties.
The final branch that the Constitution of Jamaica creates is the judicial branch. As is the case with the U.S. judicial branch, the Jamaican judiciary is a network of courts, ranging from petty sessions of the Court of Appeal, to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London, which is essentially identical to the U.S. Supreme Court. Also like the U.S. judicial system, the head of the Jamaican judicial branch is the Chief Justice.
In addition to an elected House of Representatives and an appointed Senate (upper house), the Parliament consists of a ceremonial head, the Queen, or in her absence the Governor-general. The Governor-general nominates the twenty-one members of the Senate: thirteen on the Prime Minister's advice and eight on the opposition leader's advice. The sixty House of Representative members are elected by the citizens of Jamaica based on popular vote. "The Jamaican Constitution requires that the Prime Minister call a general election no later than five years after the first sitting of the previous Parliament" (Government and Politics). In order to qualify for appointment to the Senate or for election to the House, a person must be a citizen of Jamaica or another Commonwealth country, be age twenty-one or over, and ordinarily have resided in Jamaica for the immediately preceding twelve months.
Unlike the Jamaican Legislative branch, the Executive branch does not hold any elections. The Queen' status is based on family decent, and the Governor-general is simply appointed by the Prime Minister. In addition, the Prime Minister is selected due to his position as the leader of the majority party in the House of Representatives. The United States, on the other hand, holds an election every four years to determine a President.
Both the U.S and Jamaican Constitutions currently contain extensive definitions and descriptions of the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens. The original Jamaican Constitution includes the basic human rights of movement, expression, speech, conscience, and assembly and association. Every citizen is guaranteed the freedoms of life, liberty, security, property, and protection of the law. "The right to equal treatment before the law is entrenched in the current constitution, which also speaks to the right to privacy, as part of the legal framework for protection of the dignity of the person" (The Jamaica [Constitution] Order in Council 1962).
These rights and freedoms defined by the Jamaica's Constitution are very similar to the freedoms granted in the United States' Bill of Rights. Both constitutions guarantee freedoms such as life, liberty, speech, and protection from the law. Although the Bill of Rights currently is part of the U.S. Constitution, we must remember that they were not included in the original proposal of the constitution. Rather, these rights were later added to the U.S. Constitution as the first ten amendments. Since Jamaica gained its independence and wrote its constitution after the United States, it is possible that Jamaica considered this mistake of the U.S., and thus made sure that the country's original constitution contained basic human rights and freedoms.
The Jamaican Constitution forbids inhumane treatment and racial, sexual, or political discrimination. Jamaican women are accorded full equality to men, and are granted equal pay for the same work. The legal status of women was reflected in the substantial number of women in influential positions in the civil service and government. Both the Jamaican and U.S. supreme courts are given original jurisdiction over matters concerning civil rights, and cases arising from them are promised a fair hearing within a reasonable time. In both cases, individual rights and freedoms are "subject to respect for rights of others and the public interest in matters of defense, order, health, and morality" (The Jamaica [Constitution] Order in Council 1962).
Indeed, the United States Constitution and the Constitution of Jamaica are more alike than one might presume. This was illustrated by describing similarities such as nearly identical fundamental human rights and freedoms, the same three branches of government, and analogous executive powers. A possible explanation for this resemblance could be the success of the U.S. Constitution. Since the Jamaican constitution was ratified in 1962, when the United States' power was high, it is logical to assume that the Jamaican constitutional committee sought to share some of the U.S.'s success. Regardless of the reason for the parallels, the result is that both of the constitutions have their own unique attributes as well as the similarities.