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Thursday, Jun 30, 2022

Special Select Committee says Willock must pay $98K court costs

Special Select Committee says Willock must pay $98K court costs

The Special Select Committee appointed by the House of Assembly (HoA) in November 2021 to examine whether former Speaker Julian Willock should be indemnified of court costs or not has essentially concluded that he should be made to pay out of pocket.

Despite evidence being produced to the contrary, the Committee in its Report released May 26, 2022, concluded that the Speaker should not have brought the proceedings against the lawyers for the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) and he did not have expressed permission to do so on behalf of the House of Assembly.

The Special Select Committee comprised (From left) Chairman Hon Vincent O. Wheatley (R9), Hon Mark H. Vanterpool (R4) and Hon Julian Fraser RA (R3).


‘Speaker’s action was not deemed warranted’- Special Select Committee


The Report also concluded that the Speaker’s action was not deemed warranted and it is without merit and as a result there should be no consideration of the matter by the House of Assembly.

The Committee appeared to have ignored the fact that Mr Willock was acting with the knowledge of the House of Assembly Members and on full agreement and instructions of the then Premier and Minister of Finance Hon Andrew A. Fahie (R1). The latter was confirmed in a letter by Silk Legal, who was initially contracted to represented HoA Members of the HoA who were not Ministers before the CoI.

Background


According to the Report, Mr Willock stated it was brought to the HoA’s attention that the three lawyers for the CoI were engaged in work illegally in the [British] Virgin Islands and this was further discussed with HoA Members about filing objections.

Mr Willock in his Testimony said it was agreed, that the Deputy Speaker and the Speaker file an objection to the application as they were working four months later, He indicated that while the Attorney General Dawn J. Smith did not object, she agreed in writing to a senior member of the Bar indicating that the lawyers were working illegally in the VI but she made it clear that she did not object.

After the objection application was filed by the Speaker and Deputy Speaker, the CoI went on break, therefore Judge Vicki- Ann Ellis set a date to have that the object hearing would have been heard on October 26, 2021. Two weeks later; however, the CoI announced that hearings would resume in September 2021.

“The Speaker and Deputy Speaker were advised by SILK [Legal] that since a date was set for the hearing to object the application. A part of the application is to file an injunction to prevent the lawyers from returning to work until the hearing. An injunction is an emergency and time was of the essence for them to file it with urgency.

All members were informed- Speaker


Due to time constraints, the Speaker stated that he consulted with the Minister of Finance, Hon Julian Fraser, the Deputy Speaker and the lawyer informing them of his decision. Both him and the Deputy Speaker filed the injunction. Once the injunction was filed the Speaker informed all Members,” the Report stated.

It also stated that the Speaker said the injunction was not to prevent the CoI from conducting their inquiry but to halt the inquiry until the hearing was heard in October.

Once the injunction was filed Judge Adrian Jack asked if the Speaker and Deputy had permission from the Attorney General. Mr Willock told the Committee that prior to all of the legal strategies no one indicated that they needed permission from the Attorney General.

Mr Willock said he then wrote to the Attorney General following the ruling of the Judge to seek permission; however, the AG did not respond to his letter and the decision was made to discontinue the injunction.

Judge Adrian Jack then ruled that since permission was not received from the Attorney General the Speaker would have to pay costs out of pocket. The cost listed was $98,676.51 in legal fees incurred by the defendants (UK lawyers).

Premier & Opposition were in support of Injunction- Deputy Speaker


Meanwhile, the Deputy Speaker, Hon Neville A. Smith (AL), in his testimony stated that the Premier asked that he (Deputy Speaker) be the liaison between the Premier and the Speaker. He was ordered by the Premier to inform the Speaker that the Government was in support of it (the injunction) but he (the Speaker) would need to dialogue with the Opposition.

The Deputy Speaker also stated that the Opposition was on board as well, but he (the Speaker) did not ask to what extent.

The Deputy Speaker stated that there was nothing in writing to him to convey to the Speaker.

AG & not Speaker is ‘guardian of public interest’- AG Smith


The Attorney General in her testimony said the Speaker acted ultra vires to the Constitution and the Standing Orders when he initiated the claim against the attorneys for the Commission of Inquiry.

She said the engagement of Silk Legal was clearly limited to the representation of the members of the House of Assembly in relation to the Commission of Inquiry only.

Further, she stated it is the Attorney General and not the Speaker who is the guardian of the public interest.

“The Speaker's actions, therefore, usurped the function of the Attorney General and accordingly the costs of the claim,” the AG stated.

The Special Select Committee comprised Chairman Hon Vincent O. Wheatley (R9), Hon Mark H. Vanterpool (R4) and Hon Julian Fraser RA (R3).

See letter below from SilK Legal acknowledging Mr Willock was not acting on his own:




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