British Virgin Islands

Wednesday, Oct 27, 2021

CoI: UK lawyer calls out hypocrisy of UK regarding governance in VI

CoI: UK lawyer calls out hypocrisy of UK regarding governance in VI

With many already questioning the motive of the one-sided Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into Governance in the Virgin Islands, United Kingdom lawyer Sir Charles Geoffrey Cox QC, who is representing Government Ministers and the Attorney General before the CoI, has again raised suspicion about the reason the CoI was called and the fact that Governors for the past three to four decades did nothing about Cabinet decisions that the CoI is now taking issues with.

Sir Geoffrey also pointed out the glaring fact that the CoI was called during what he described as a bitter and heated dispute between then-Governor Augustus J. U. Jaspert and Premier Andrew A. Fahie (R1).

The matter came up during Hearing Day 46 of the CoI on October 11, 2021, when Premier and Minister of Finance Hon Fahie appeared as a witness.

Premier and Minister of Finance Hon Andrew A. Fahie appeared as a witness on Hearing Day 46 of the CoI on October 11, 2021, when he raised concerns about the terms of reference of the CoI.

Broad terms of reference a concern

Premier Fahie had raised concerns about the broad terms of reference of the CoI and noted that no government in the world would be found without defects with such broad terms of reference.

In response, Commissioner Gary R. Hickinbottom asked Premier Fahie whether he was saying every government has serious dishonesty in public office.

Premier noted he was not saying that at all, before Sir Geoffrey intervened to support Hon Fahie’s position, telling Mr Hickinbottom that he is effectively carrying out a broad-scale judicial review of decisions on five topics that the VI government has taken over the last 15 years, which goes far beyond paragraph one of the CoI’s terms of reference.

Paragraph one of the CoI’s terms of reference states: ‘to establish whether there is information that corruption, abuse of office or other serious dishonesty in relation to officials, whether statutory, elected or public may have taken place in recent years.’

According to Sir Geoffrey, it is not only paragraph one that the CoI is zeroing in on but it is looking at ultra vires decisions, the dismissal of statutory boards and the granting of belongership status, among other things. He said such matters occur even in the administrative courts of the UK every single day.

Not even UK would come out with a clean bill of health- UK lawyer

Sir Geoffrey explained that Premier Fahie was not seeking to justify corruption. “He is simply saying that when you sit in criticism on questions of governance, no government in the world, and certainly not the United Kingdom Government, will emerge with a clean bill of health, partly because your colleagues for many years have sat quite rightly in the administrative courts bringing these things to light and quashing decisions.

“You shake your head but I am sorry Commissioner but I know that those I represent feel extremely strongly about this. Paragraph one [of Terms of reference] behaviour is one thing but inquiries into governance and the leveling of potential criticisms about defects of governance is part of your Inquiry.

“That is why the Premier is extremely concerned about it because he thinks that well yes we well may have been able to improve and we may be found to be ultra vires in many respects but which government wouldn’t?” Sir Geoffrey asked.

Mr Hickinbottom then said it was simply wrong to say that the CoI is investigating every project and every contract over the last 10 years.

But according to Sir Geoffrey, the CoI has been levelling criticisms on the basis of governance. “Your criticism letters make it abundantly plain that part of your criticisms is ultra vires behaviour.”

He said the CoI has examined witnesses on whether or not they have behaved ultra vires. “What is that if it isn’t a judicial review?

“The problem is that I am trying to point out to you is that the way the government sees it is that they are under criticisms for defects in governance and all that the Premier I think he is saying is that when looking at the criticisms they are not confined to paragraph one or wherever you may find it, if you can possibly find it, but there are criticisms of them in the way they have administered their systems, in the way they have brought in laws or observed laws.”

Where was the Governor all these years?

Sir Geoffrey reiterated that what Premier Fahie was simply saying is “these things are matters of governance that have been embedded for years and the administering state has a responsibility.

“The governor has sat in Cabinet for 20 to 30 years seeing these decisions go past him. What have they done, until last year when you were called in the midst of a quite bitter and heated dispute between a governor and a premier?”

Mr Hickinbottom then asked Sir Geoffrey if what he was saying is a submission.

“Well, it is and I will certainly make it if you will permit me,” Sir Geoffrey responded, adding that he just didn’t want the Premier to be misinterpreted.

“I noticed you commenced this by saying [to the Premier] ‘Is what you are saying this?’ It wasn’t quite and I am anxious that shouldn’t be,” Sir Geoffrey said.


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