The term CONSTITUTION comes from the Latin word “constitutio”, used for orders and regulations, such as imperial enactments.

Later, the term was widely used in canon law for an important determination, especially a decree issued by the Pope, now referred to as an apostolic constitution.

According to Emeritus Professor Datuk Shad Saleem Faruqi, “Constitutions are born to mark stages in the progression towards self-government, to establish the foundations of a newly independent state or to start afresh after a revolutionary or ideological upheaval”.

A Constitution is a body of fundamental laws that describes how the state is organized, the government carried on and justice administered, like a political architect’s master plan for the nation.

It provides the legal foundation on which the structure of the state rests and the highest law of the land. It is the apex of the legal pyramid. It is of superior legal validity to all other laws of the land whether passed by the Federal Parliament, State Assemblies or local authorities.

At the philosophical level, a constitution supplies the fundamental or core values on which society is founded. These values are political, religious, moral, cultural and economic. They may be contained in a stirring preamble to the Constitution or maybe implicit in the glittering generalities of the Constitution’s Articles.


In 1945 the constitutional and administrative structure of North Borneo lay in ruins and was unable to exercise its powers; government offices were disorganized, their records lost, their building destroyed, and their staff dead or dispersed.

The organization of central and local administration and the new constitutional arrangements were modelled on the constitutional framework of the Chartered Company and such changes as were made in the ensuing years were, for the most part, natural development rather than radical alterations.

The Colony of North Borneo was constituted by the North Borneo Cession Order in Council on the 10th of July 1946 and the first post-war constitution was the Letters Patent, under the Great Seal of the Realm constituting the office of Governor and Commander in Chief of the colony of North Borneo and providing for the government thereof.

He was to be assisted by an Advisory Council to consist of the Chief Secretary, the Attorney General, and the Financial Secretary, as ex officio members, and such other persons, to be styled appointed members, as the Governor might appoint. The Crown reserved full powers of legislation.

The North Borneo Order in Council also stated that whereas an agreement had been made between the Secretary of State for the Colonies, on behalf of His Majesty, and the British North Borneo Company, whereby the company had transferred and ceded all its rights, powers and interest in the territory with effect from 15th July 1946, it was, therefore, ordered that the State of North Borneo be annexed to and form part of His Majesty’s Dominions, and should be called, together with the Settlement of Labuan, the colony of North Borneo.

All persons who on July 15 were citizens of the State of North Borneo by the North Borneo Naturalization Ordinance of 1931 should, on that day, become British subjects.

The first meeting of the Advisory Council was held on the 15th of July 1946, in the upper room of the old district office in Jesselton.

At the end of 1947, there were, in addition to the three ex-officio members, nineteen who had been appointed by the Governor. The officials were the three Residents, the Commissioner of Immigration and Labor, and the Conservator of Forests. The unofficial were six natives, four European and four Chinese.

In 1947, the first Governor, Mr Edward Francis Twining appointed a committee of Mr T.D. Wallace, as chairman, of the three Residents, and all the native and unofficial members of the Advisory Council, prepared detailed proposals for the constitution of the Executive and Legislative Councils.

In June 1947, the Advisory Council passed a resolution on the future constitutional development of the Colony, and the proposals were approved in principle by the secretary of state.

In March 1948, at the meeting of the Advisory Council, the committee produced a unanimous report which was provided to the Secretary of State. A long correspondence ensued with the Colonial Office about the various clauses, mainly on the question of drafting and law.

On the 12th of June 1950, the Governor explained that the pressure of work in the Colonial Office had prevented more expeditious handling of the matter, and only recently had a revised draft, which would take some time to consider, been sent to London.

The new constitution eventually appeared in The North Borneo (Amendment) Letters Patent dated 9th August 1950. There should be established Executive and Legislative Councils in place of the Advisory Council.

Executive Council consists of the same three ex-officio members, two official members and four nominated members. The official and nominated members are appointed by the Governor, in pursuance of instructions from the Secretary of State, for a three-year term.

The North Borneo (Legislative Council) Order in Council was made on the 9th of October 1950. Under its terms, the Legislative Council consists of the Governor as president, the usual three ex-officio members, nine official members, and ten nominated members.

The official members must be British subjects or British-protected persons holding office in the public office. By the proclamation on the 16th of October 1950, the Governor declared that the North Borneo (Legislative Council) Order in Council, 1950 and the North Borneo (Amendment) Letters Patent, 1950 should come into effect.

Since 1950 there has been no formal change in the law of the constitution.

In 1956, the principal government department was Agriculture, Civil Aviation, Customs, Education, Forests, Geological Survey, Judicial, Lands and Survey, marine, Medical, Police, Posts and Telegraph, Printing, Prisons, Public Works and the Railway.

Of the above departments, Civil Aviation, Geological Survey, and the Judiciary serve all the British Borneo.

The slow constitutional development of North Borneo is not due to any reluctance on the part of the British Government to permit further advance but to the lack of any public demand for it.

The primary objective of the Chartered Company Administration was not to govern but to trade and make profits for its shareholders.

The policies were to expand operations, increase cultivation, and maximized profits. Therefore, it had little interest in the political and social development of the country.

The British Colonial administration was more concerned with governing than its predecessor and the objectives were to provide a government to rule, to protect the British and European interests and investment in the region, to service the home markets, to provide some public and social services such as health and education and to make Great Britain greater.

The policies were the establishment of a State of Bureaucracy, the formulation of a land policy which sought to place all land under crown land, a financial policy that sought to collect taxes from the citizen, land, and other sources of revenues, a defence policy which sought to defend the state from external aggression, the establishment of law courts to administer justice and a divide and rule approach to social administration through segregation of different communities.

The British colonial administration can be credited for the initial development of Sabah and for preparing its citizen for a peaceful transition to independence.

Substantial progress had been made in the areas of education with the building of primary schools, health development with the building of basic hospitals, political, strong civilian government, effective system of administration, creation of various laws and regulations, and effective system of land administration.

This lack of constitutional development may also be due in part to the level of education, particularly the absence of any politically-conscious, university-trained elite, confident of its ability to run a country.

It partly arises because of the different races with the British holding the ring and seeing fair play between them.

Politically, therefore, it is one of the least advanced of all of Great Britain’s dependent territories.


(Disclaimer: This article is designed to improve our North Borneo History’s knowledge and is strictly for educational purposes. We assume no responsibility or liability for any errors or omissions in the content of this article. The information in this article is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Further reading materials on the topic may be required.)

References: –

1. Constitution of the State of Sabah


3. F.G. Whelan-A History of Sabah

4. KG Tregonning – Under the Charted Company Rule

5. KG Tregonning – A History of Modern Sabah 1881-1963

6. MH Baker – Sabah the First Ten Years as a Colony

7. IDS-Sabah 25 Years Later

8. A Collection of Treaties and Other Documents affecting the states of Malaysia 1761-1963


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