British Virgin Islands

Wednesday, Sep 22, 2021

Details of COI hearings should not be publicised, Sir Gary warns

Details of COI hearings should not be publicised, Sir Gary warns

Oral hearings of the Commission of Inquiry (COI) commence today (May 4) and Sir Gary Hickinbottom has issued a warning that participants are not allowed to share or publicise any details of proceedings.

Sir Gary — the inquiry’s sole Commissioner — issued the warning during his opening statements at today’s hearing.

“Unless and until I declare otherwise, no one is allowed to publicise any part of it (hearings), in any way. If there is any such publicity, then I can – and usually will – investigate the cause of the leak and take appropriate action against anyone who has caused or facilitated the breach of confidence,” Sir Gary stated.

“Further, it is important that I emphasise that no recordings can be made of any hearing – public or private – save for the authorised recording that I am causing to be made. A transcript will be made of each hearing. If the hearing is private, then a transcript may be provided to participants on the basis of a confidentiality undertaking. If a hearing is public – or if I direct that a private hearing be made public – then the default position will be that the relevant transcript will be posted on the COI website,” he added.

The Commissioner then underscored that the COI is not a court of law.

He said the inquiry is simply conducting an investigation, as required by my terms of reference.

“The hearings are not adversarial, but inquisitorial. I would ask all those who may be involved in the hearings to bear that in mind. Counsel to the Inquiry, Mr Bilal Rawat, is not here to promote any cause: he has been appointed, by the Attorney General on my recommendation, to promote the public interest and to ensure, so far as he can, that the COI complies with its terms of reference for the benefit of all who live in this territory. That too is my overarching and primary consideration. I hope, and expect, all witnesses and those who might represent them to share those aims,” Hickinbottom stated.

The inquiry

Former Governor Augustus Jaspert launched the COI on January 19 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”.

The Commissioner is required to report his findings and recommendations to the territory’s sitting Governor (John Rankin) by July. However, if necessary, the Governor can extend that time to October. Sir Gary has not yet determined whether an extension is required but said he will make such a determination in the next few weeks.

Persons are still invited to share information with the COI via its website and other previously mentioned mediums. The government alone has disclosed nearly 4,000 official documents to the investigating team.


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