British Virgin Islands

Tuesday, Aug 03, 2021

It’s the AG who’s requested private hearings for COI - Sir Gary

It’s the AG who’s requested private hearings for COI - Sir Gary

Head of the Commission of Inquiry (COI), Sir Gary Hickinbottom has suggested that the thing preventing live, public hearings from happening to date is the government.

Sir Gary gave that indication on Friday while responding to Premier Andrew Fahie’s latest call for hearings of the COI to be live-streamed.

Yesterday, Premier Fahie said, “the proceedings of hearings should be broadcast on the internet and the radio, in the least. While some transcripts are being made available, not everyone is able to sit down and read these massive number of pages. Persons who have challenges reading would be left worse off. However, broadcast of the proceedings makes it easier for the public to access and digest the proceedings.”

In response, Sir Gary said that while the default position is for all hearings to be live-streamed, to date, Attorney General (AG) Dawn Smith, “on behalf of the Premier and other Ministers, etc — whom she represents — has asked for the hearings to be held in private”.

He said this was to ensure that the “rights to confidentiality and the ministers’ privileges, with respect to any documents or information that might be referred to, are maintained”.

Sir Gary explained that he requires transcripts of these hearings to be made public on the COI website as soon as the AG indicates which parts need to be redacted (blacked out) from the transcript.

He expressed regret that the procedure meant that the hearings cannot be live-streamed; hence causing an inevitable delay in making transcripts public.

Incomplete, poorly organised disclosure

Sir Gary further said the initial hearings were rendered necessary because the documents which have been disclosed by public officials appeared to be substantially incomplete and in very poor order, such that, in some cases, it was difficult or impossible to ascertain anything useful from them.

Premier Fahie suggested yesterday that “anomalies or shortcomings” in the documents to the COI might be “due to human or machine error in the reproduction of photocopies or labelling”.

And wherever there is any need for clarification on any submission, Fahie said his “government is ready to promptly address these”.

But According to the Commissioner, Queen’s Counsel Sir Geoffrey Cox — who appeared on behalf of the AG during a hearing yesterday — explained that checks on the documents provided had been made, and “regrettably the documents disclosed represented the entirety of the available documents and the order in which they are, in fact, kept”.

Recheck and sign affidavits

The Commissioner has since directed government ministers and other public officials to recheck the documents sent and swear affidavits confirming that disclosure is complete. They are required to do so by the end of May.

The Commissioner reiterated that it is his intention that all future hearings will be live-streamed.


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