Governmental Institutions

Haiti Table of Contents

Avril's military government administered the country through a cabinet that included thirteen ministerial portfolios as of mid-1989. The most powerful of these posts was the Ministry of Interior and National Defense, which combined administrative responsibilities over the nation's armed forces and the police. As of mid-1989, no legislative body existed in Haiti.

A number of military and civil jurisdictions existed throughout Haiti. The jurisdictional system resulted in preferential treatment for the government of Port-au-Prince over the rest of the country. Most institutions were concentrated in the capital city. Moreover, the military either ran or dominated the most elaborate institutions.At the level of departments (départements) and rural communal sections, a military office served as the sole government representative. Thus, both the largest and the smallest subdivisions were exclusively military jurisdictions.

Furthermore, the structure of jurisdictions and the distribution of government institutions were generally asymmetrical. The military subdivisions of departments (i.e., districts, subdistricts, and guard posts) did not correspond to civil jurisdictions such as counties (arrondissements) or municipalities. Units identified as police functioned only in Port-au-Prince. The technical ministries, such as agriculture or public health, generally did not maintain offices at the level of municipalities or rural communal sections. At the municipality level, the most widely diffused national civil institution was the tax office. In any case, most people in Haiti lived in rural sections, where the civil functions of government were virtually nonexistent.

Under transitional military government, the judiciary did not function as the Constitution directed. Moreover, the formal structure of the judiciary was in a state of flux. The Haitian judiciary had usually had a marginal relationship to society, and it had generally failed to protect the rights of citizens. The masses of the citizenry were largely excluded from the duly constituted system of courts and due process. Under the dictatorial rule of François Duvalier, the court system was virtually suspended.

Haiti derived the formal aspects of its legal system from Roman law, the Napoleonic Code, and the French system of civil law. The highest court, the Court of Cassation, consisted of a president, a vice president, and ten judges. It functioned in two chambers, with five judges in each but it would function as a whole when it heard appeals and pleas of the unconstitutionality of laws and decrees. Judges of the Court of Cassation had to be at least thirty years old, had to have practiced law for at least ten years, and had to have held the position of judge or public attorney for at least seven years.

Below the Court of Cassation were four courts of appeal, located in Port-au-Prince, Les Cayes, Gonaïves, and Cap-Haïtien. The court at Port-au-Prince had a president and five judges, whereas the others had a president and four judges. These courts heard both civil and criminal cases, including all appeals from courts of first instance and criminal appeals from justice of the peace courts when a serious matter was involved. To be appointed to these courts, judges had to have been either judges of courts of first instance for three years or military advocates for at least ten years.

Courts of first instance were either civil tribunals or criminal tribunals. Both were located in major cities. Each court had one judge and various other officers. These courts heard many first-instance civil cases and all criminal cases other than police matters. Judges in these courts were required to have practiced law for at least two years.

The justice of the peace courts were located in each of the country's 126 municipalities and in other places. Each court had at least one judge and other officials. According to the law, a justice of the peace was required to have a law degree, to be at least twenty-five years old, to be in full enjoyment of civil and political rights, and to have completed a probationary period of at least one year. These courts heard all cases involving limited amounts of money, including first-instance cases. They also handled landlord and tenant cases. Their jurisdiction in criminal matters extended only to cases where the penalty did not exceed six months in jail.

In addition, there were special courts that dealt with administrative contracts, property rights, juveniles, and labor conflicts.

The president of Haiti appointed all judges. Those in the Court of Cassation and the courts of appeal served ten years; the others served seven years.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress