In 1971, when Bahrain gained its independence from Britain, the Emir declared the country an Arab Islamic State under the hereditary rule of the Emir. In 1973, the Constituent Assembly approved a constitution of 108 articles. The 1973 constitution provided for an elected, unicameral legislative body, the National Assembly. The constitution was suspended in 1975 but then revived with substantial amendments on February 14, 2002 by royal decree.
The Emiri Decree No. 8 for 2001 called citizens of Bahrain to participate in a referendum on a National Charter of Action on February 14 and 15, 2001. The Charter, approved by the plebiscite, declares a constitutional monarchy in Bahrain, provides for a bicameral parliament, an independent judiciary, and the establishment of a council to investigate complaints from citizens. In October Shaikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa pledged to transform Bahrain into a "people's kingdom" and then promulgated the revised constitution, officially changing the country's name to "the Kingdom of Bahrain". The 2002 constitution solidified the provisions of the National Charter, establishing a bicameral parliament and guaranteeing women's suffrage.
Separation of Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Powers
Legislative authority is vested in a National Assembly that consists of the Consultative Council, an upper house of forty members appointed by the king, and the Chamber of Deputies, forty members elected by universal adult suffrage. The term of membership in each house is four years. In the case of a vacancy in the upper house, the king is to appoint a replacement to serve out the rest of the remaining term. In the case of a vacancy in the Chamber of Deputies, a new member is to be elected within two months to serve out the term, unless the vacancy occurs within the final six months of the term. Laws must pass each house and be ratified by the king, who promulgates them. Once a bill has passed in both houses, the King has six months to return it to the legislature for reconsideration, after which point the bill is considered as ratified. If the king returns the bill and it is re-approved by a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly, the king must ratify and promulgate it within one month.
Article 33 of the constitution spells out the powers of the head of state, now given the title of King rather than Emir. Not only is the king the inviolate symbol of national unity and loyal protector of the homeland but he also exercises broad executive powers directly and through his ministers, whom he appoints and who are jointly answerable to him for general government policy as well as individually responsible to him for the conduct of their respective ministries. The king is supreme commander of the defense force and chairman of the Higher Judicial Council, in which capacity he appoints judges by royal order, in accordance with the council’s nominations. When the King travels outside the country and the Crown Prince is unable to act for him, the king appoints a deputy by royal order to exercise limited powers on the king’s behalf.
The king may at any time issue decree that have the force of law, but they must be referred to both the Consultative Council and the Chamber of Deputies within a month of their promulgation or, if the National Assembly is not in session, within a month of the first new meetings of its respective chambers. If the two chambers do not confirm them, they retroactively cease to have the force of law. The king also has the right to call for a referendum on any important law or issue.
The king has the right to dissolve the Chamber of Deputies and may also extend its term for up to two years. If it is dissolved, sessions of the Consultative Council are also halted. The king may also recall a dissolved Chamber.
The Constitution outlaws physical and psychological torture, and the inhumane treatment of prisoners. Anyone involved in such activity faces prosecution. The constitution describes Bahrain as a state founded on justice and designed to safeguard the Arab and Islamic heritage. Liberty, equality, security, tranquility, education, social solidarity and equal opportunities for citizens are viewed as the pillars of society guaranteed by the state. According to Article 2, the state is to preserve the family and strengthen its values by guaranteeing the right of inheritance and giving protection to mothers and children and “reconciling the duties of women toward the family with their work in society, and their equality with men in political, social, cultural, and economic spheres without breaching the provisions” of Islamic law, the Shari’a, which “is a principal source for legislation.” The state is to provide education, social security and insurance, housing for the poor and medical care, and to protect its citizens from ignorance, fear, and poverty. Article 13 requires the state “to guarantee the provision of job opportunities for its citizens and the fairness of work conditions.”
Civil liberties include safeguards against illegal searches, arrests, detention, forced confession, and forced residence, as well as the rights to trial, freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, academic freedom, freedom of the press, privacy of homes, freedom to form associations and trade unions for lawful objectives and by peaceful means, and public assembly with prior permission. Article 36 limits the imposition of martial law to three months, renewable by the approval of a majority vote of the members of the National Assembly present.
The constitution establishes a Constitutional Court consisting of a president and six members appointed by royal order. The Court is competent to decide upon disputes relating to the constitutionality of laws and regulations. The constitution stipulates that members of the National Assembly should not interfere with the work of either the executive or the judicial branches.
Constitutional Amendments and Procedures
The constitution has been amended so as to make the Financial Control Office independent of the Chamber of Deputies as well as the Government. It controls the collection of State revenues and disbursement of expenditures within budgetary limits.
A majority vote of two-thirds of the membership of the both houses of the National Assembly fully assembled is required to pass any amendment to the constitution. If a proposed amendment is rejected, it cannot be put forward again for a full year. Article 2 concerning the state religion is not subject to amendment. The principles of constitutional monarchy, inherited rule in Bahrain, liberty and equality, and the bicameral system adopted in the present constitution are also deemed to be permanent.