Tonga 1875 Constitution (reviewed 2013)

Table of Contents


Granted by His Majesty King George Tupou I on the fourth day of November One thousand eight hundred and seventy-five and since amended in accordance with the law on divers dates mentioned in the endnotes to this revised edition.


1. Declaration of freedom

Since it appears to be the will of God that man should be free as He has made all men of one blood therefore shall the people of Tonga and all who sojourn or may sojourn in this Kingdom be free for ever. And all men may use their lives and persons and time to acquire and possess property and to dispose of their labour and the fruit of their hands and to use their own property as they will.

2. Slavery prohibited

No person shall serve another against his will except he be undergoing punishment by law and any slave who may escape from a foreign country to Tonga (unless he be escaping from justice being guilty of homicide or theft or any great crime or involved in debt) shall be free from the moment he sets foot on Tongan soil for no person shall be in servitude under the protection of the flag of Tonga.

3. Conditions under which foreign labourers may be introduced

Whoever may wish to bring persons from other islands to work for him may make an agreement with them for the number of years they will work for him and a copy of the written agreement he makes with them shall be deposited in the Public Offices stating the amount of payment they shall receive the period they shall work and a promise to take them back to their own land. And the Government shall cause such contract to be carried out both on behalf of those who engage and those who are engaged. And such persons being so introduced shall be subject to the laws of the land and shall pay the same Customs duties as all the people in the Kingdom and taxes as shall be ordained by the King and his Cabinet.

4. Same law for all classes

There shall be but one law in Tonga for chiefs and commoners for non-Tongans and Tongans. No laws shall be enacted for one class and not for another class but the law shall be the same for all the people of this land.

5. Freedom of worship

All men are free to practise their religion and to worship God as they may deem fit in accordance with the dictates of their own consciences and to assemble for religious service in such places as they may appoint. But it shall not be lawful to use this freedom to commit evil and licentious acts or under the name of worship to do what is contrary to the law and peace of the land.

6. Sabbath Day to be kept holy

The Sabbath Day shall be kept holy in Tonga and no person shall practise his trade or profession or conduct any commercial undertaking on the Sabbath Day except according to law; and any agreement made or witnessed on that day shall be null and void and of no legal effect.

7. Freedom of the press

  1. It shall be lawful for all people to speak write and print their opinions and no law shall ever be enacted to restrict this liberty. There shall be freedom of speech and of the press for ever but nothing in this clause shall be held to outweigh the law of defamation, official secrets or the laws for the protection of the King and the Royal Family.
  2. It shall be lawful, in addition to the exceptions set out in sub-clause (1), to enact such laws as are considered necessary or expedient in the public interest, national security, public order, morality, cultural traditions of the Kingdom, privileges of the Legislative Assembly and to provide for contempt of Court and the commission of any offence.
  3. It shall be lawful to enact laws to regulate the operation of any media.

8. Freedom of petition

All people shall be free to send letters or petitions to the King or Legislative Assembly and to meet and consult concerning matters about which they think it right to petition the King or Legislative Assembly to pass or repeal enactments provided that they meet peaceably without arms and without disorder.

9. Habeas Corpus

The law of the writ of Habeas Corpus shall apply to all people and it shall never be suspended excepting in the case of war or rebellion in the land when it shall be lawful for the King to suspend it.

10. Accused must be tried

No one shall be punished because of any offence he may have committed until he has been sentenced according to law before a Court having jurisdiction in the case.

11. Procedure on indictment

No one shall be tried or summoned to appear before any court or punished for failing to appear unless he have first received a written indictment (except in cases of impeachment or for small offences within the jurisdiction of the magistrate or for contempt of court while the court is sitting). Such written indictment shall clearly state the offence charged against him and the grounds for the charge. And at his trial the witnesses against him shall be brought face to face with him (except according to law) and he shall hear their evidence and shall be allowed to question them and to bring forward any witness of his own and to make his own statement regarding the charge preferred against him. But whoever shall be indicted for any offence if he shall so elect shall be tried by jury and this law shall never be repealed. And all claims for large amounts shall be decided by a jury and the Legislative Assembly shall determine what shall be the amount of claim that may be decided without a jury.

12. Accused cannot be tried twice

No one shall be tried again for any offence for which he has already been tried whether he was acquitted or convicted except in cases where the accused shall confess after having been acquitted by the court and when there is sufficient evidence to prove the truth of his confession.

13. Charge cannot be altered

No one shall be tried on any charge but that which appears in the indictment, summons or warrant and for which he is being brought to trial:

Save and except that—

  1. where the complete commission of the offence charged is not proved but the evidence establishes an attempt to commit that offence the accused may be convicted of this attempt and punished accordingly; and
  2. where an attempt to commit an offence is charged but the evidence establishes the commission of the full offence the accused may be convicted of the attempt; and
  3. on the trial of any person for embezzlement or fraudulent conversion the jury shall be at liberty to find such person not guilty of embezzlement or fradulent conversion but guilty of theft and on the trial of any person for theft the jury shall be at liberty to find such person guilty of embezzlement or fraudulent conversion.
  4. any Act may provide that a person charged with an offence may be convicted of another offence (not being a more serious offence) arising out of the same circumstances.

14. Trial to be fair

No one shall be intimidated into giving evidence against himself nor shall the life or property or liberty of anyone be taken away except according to law.

15. Court to be unbiased

It shall not be lawful for any judge or magistrate to adjudicate or for any juryman to sit in any case in which one of his relations is concerned either as a plaintiff defendant or witness: Nor shall any judge or magistrate sit in any case which concerns himself: Nor shall any judge or magistrate or juryman on any pretence receive any present or money or anything else from anyone who is about to be tried nor from any of the defendant’s friends but all judges magistrates and jurymen shall be entirely free and shall in no case whatever be interested or biased on the discharge of their duties.

16. Premises cannot be searched without warrant

It shall not be lawful for anyone to enter forcibly the houses or premises of another or to search for anything or to take anything the property of another except according to law: And should any person lose any property and believe it to be concealed in any place whether house or premises it shall be lawful for him to make an affidavit before a magistrate that he believes it to be concealed in that place and he shall describe particularly the property so concealed and the place in which he believes it to be concealed and the magistrate shall issue a search warrant to the police to search for the property according to the affidavit so made.

17. Government to be impartial

The King shall reign on behalf of all his people and not so as to enrich or benefit any one man or any one family or any one class but without partiality for the good of all the people of his Kingdom.

18. Taxation – Compensation to be paid for property taken

All the people have the right to expect that the Government will protect their life liberty and property and therefore it is right for all the people to support and contribute to the Government according to law. And if at any time there should be a war in the land and the Government should take the property of anyone the Government shall pay the fair value of such property to the owner. And if the Legislature shall resolve to take from any person or persons their premises or a part of their premises or their houses for the purpose of making Government roads or other work of benefit to the Government the Government shall pay the fair value.

19. Expenditure to be voted

No money shall be paid out of the Treasury nor borrowed nor debts contracted by the Government but by the prior vote of the Legislative Assembly, except in the following cases:

  1. Where an Act duly passed by the Legislative Assembly gives power to pay out money or borrow or contract debts, then money may be paid out, or borrowing carried out or debts contracted in terms of that Act; and
  2. In cases of war or rebellion or dangerous epidemic or a similar emergency, then it may be done by the Minister for Finance with the consent of Cabinet, and the King shall at once convoke the Legislative Assembly and the Minister for Finance shall state the grounds for the expenditure and the amount.

20. Retrospective laws

It shall not be lawful to enact any retrospective laws in so far as they may curtail or take away or affect rights or privileges existing at the time of the passing of such laws.

21. Army subject to civil law

Every soldier shall be subject to the laws of the land whether he belong to the Guards, the Artillery or to the Militia in accordance with the twenty-second clause and any soldier who breaks the law of the land shall be tried in the courts as any other person. And it shall not be lawful for any officer to quarter any soldier upon the premises of anyone except in time of war and then only as may be resolved by the Legislative Assembly.

22. Guards and Militia

It shall be lawful for the King to command any taxpayer to join the militia for the purpose of instruction or for parade on public occasions should he think fit and also in time of war to call out all those capable of bearing arms and to make orders and regulations for their control and provisioning.

23. Disabilities of convict

No person having been convicted of a criminal offence and sentenced to imprisonment for more than two years, shall hold any office under the Government whether of emolument or honour nor shall he be qualified to vote for nor to be elected a representative of the Legislative Assembly unless he has received from the King a pardon together with a declaration that he is freed from the disabilities to which he would otherwise be subject under the provisions of this clause:

Provided that the operation of this clause shall be suspended in any case until the expiration of 42 days after the date of sentencing; and in cases where notice of appeal or leave to appeal is given within 42 days after the date of sentencing, until the determination of the appeal; and if the conviction is quashed on appeal or the sentence reduced to no more than 2 years imprisonment then this clause shall not have effect.

24. Public officer not to engage in trade

It shall not be lawful for anyone holding any office under the Government whether of emolument or otherwise to hold any appointment from another Government without first obtaining permission from Cabinet. And it shall not be lawful for anyone holding an office of emolument under the Government to engage in trade or work for anyone else, except with the prior consent of Cabinet.

25. (Repealed by Act 28 of 1978)

26. (Repealed by Act 28 of 1978)

27. Age of maturity

No person may succeed to any tofi’a or any title until he has attained the age of twenty one years, save for members of the Royal Family who shall be deemed to have attained maturity at eighteen years of age.

28. Qualifications for jurors

Every Tongan who has arrived at the age of 21 years and can read and write and is not disabled by the twenty third clause of this Constitution shall be liable to serve on juries and the names of all those who are liable to serve shall be published once every year and anyone who neglects to serve shall be punished as shall be enacted by the Legislature. Ministers of the Crown and the Governors, Members of the Legislative Assembly, Judges and Magistrates, heads of Government Departments or Ministries, law practitioners, members of the police force and of the armed forces of Tonga, officers of the Supreme Court, of the Magistrates Courts or of any prison, ministers of religion, persons of unsound mind or persons incapable of serving by reason of blindness, deafness or any other permanent physical infirmity shall be exempt from serving on juries.

29. Naturalization

Any foreigner after he has resided in the Kingdom for the space of five years or more may with the consent of the King take the oath of allegiance and he may be granted Certificates of Naturalization and all naturalized subjects shall have the same rights and privileges as native born subjects of Tonga with the exception that they shall not be entitled to the rights of hereditary tax allotments or town allotments.

29A. Law may declare specific naturalization

  1. Notwithstanding clause 29 of this Constitution it shall be lawful for the King and the Legislative Assembly to enact specific laws declaring any persons whether or not they have ever resided in Tonga to be or to have become naturalized subjects of Tonga from any date. All persons who are declared to be naturalized subjects of Tonga by any such legislation shall have, and shall be deemed to have had from the effective dates of their naturalizations, the same rights and privileges as other foreigners becoming naturalized subjects of Tonga by the grant to them of Certificates of Naturalization.
  2. For the avoidance of doubt, Clause 20 of this Constitution shall not apply to any laws enacted in pursuance of sub-clause (1).