British Virgin Islands

Wednesday, Oct 20, 2021

Patsy Lake fails in bid to avoid COI!

Patsy Lake fails in bid to avoid COI!

Businesswoman and prominent Virgin Islander, Patsy Lake has failed in an apparent bid to have herself excluded from providing evidence and producing documents after being summoned to appear before the ongoing Commission of Inquiry (COI).

Lake, who serves as the Deputy Chair of the BVI Airports Authority, a member of the Social Security Board and a Director of the Cyril B Romney Tortola Pier Park, appeared before the COI on May 6.

According to Commissioner Sir Gary Hickinbottom, it was understood that Lake entered into a number of contracts with various arms of the BVI government, not only in her own name, but also through various businesses and companies.

Summons is a fishing exercise

Lake unsuccessfully made two applications when she appeared before the Commissioner.

Firstly, she sought an application that would have allowed her attorney, Terrance Neale of McW Todman & Co to represent her before the COI.

Secondly, Lake requested that she not be required to appear before the COI and offer evidence or supply documents to the Commission on the basis that she might “incriminate” herself in doing so. Her attorney also argued in her application that the summons was in breach of the rules of natural justice, among other things.

Attorney Neale argued that the summons his client received appeared to be a “fishing exercise” for evidence to formulate a case against Lake.

Sir Gary said the first application was refused on the basis that an application needed to be made in writing to the Commissioner confirming legal representation. The application, Sir Gary said, would not be allowed in the absence of a direction from him confirming representation of the attorney as a participant.

However, Sir Gary conceded that the COI rules may permit a witness to have Counsel present when giving evidence to the COI. The attorney was, therefore, allowed advise Lake during her appearance.

Argument based on false premise

Sir Gary said Mr Neal’s second application to exclude Lake was based on a false premise.

While reiterating that the COI is ‘investigatory and inquisitorial’ and ‘not adversarial’, Sir Gary stated: “It is not part of the function of the COI to “make a case” against anyone but rather to see whether there is information that corruption, abuse of office or other serious dishonesty in relation to public officials has taken place.”

Lake’s attorney had also argued that his client may not have access to some of the documents requested by the COI or may be restricted in producing them due to confidentiality reasons.

He further argued that the COI is able to obtain all of the requested documents from the government; hence making the summons unnecessary.

In refuting the arguments, Sir Gary countered that Neale did not pursue any suggestion that the summons was issued in anything but good faith.

He also argued that Lake not having access to the requested documents did not make the summons unlawful or invalid.

“Ms Lake, of course, does not have to produce documents that are not in her possession or control,” Sir Gary said, adding that she can clarify which documents she had control of.

Sir Gary further noted that the COI is unable to request documents from the government concerning arrangements between the government and companies with which Lake is connected because it cannot necessarily identify all of those companies.

Turning to the issue of self-incrimination, Sir Gary said witnesses can object to answering questions.

“No person is bound to answer any question in civil proceedings if the answer to that question would in the opinion of the court have a tendency to expose him or her to any criminal charge, penalty or forfeiture which the court regards as reasonably likely to be pursued,” the Commissioner stated.

During the course of the hearing, Lake agreed to provide documents in her possession or control relating to her contractual dealings with government bodies.

The Commission of Inquiry was issued on January 19, 2021, to look into whether corruption, abuse of office or other serious dishonesty may have taken place amongst the public, elected and statutory officials in recent years.


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