International Influence in Constitution Making: Three Pacific Constitutions

This paper identifies a pattern of international influence on the written constitutions of three Pacific states – Tonga (1875), Samoa (1960) and Tuvalu (1986) – in which Indigenous polities borrowed the language and form of written constitutions to signal their independence and capacity for self-government to external actors. As a result, written constitutions deal only partially with continuing forms of public governance based on Indigenous custom. The dynamics of international influence have affected how courts in each state approach constitutional interpretation. In some cases, courts have used the history of constitution making to recognise and preserve a space for customary institutions and values, in others to exclude it. The dynamics of international influence, as traced in this paper, show why it might be important – and legitimate – to shed the presumption that the whole of the constitution is contained in the constitutional text.