BVI Commission of Inquiry – implementation of recommendations
The Governor of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) has announced that he will not immediately seek a partial suspension of the BVI Constitution as recommended by a Commission of Inquiry (COI) led by the Rt Hon Sir Gary Hickinbottom given the commitment of the new BVI Government to implement all the COI’s remaining 48 recommendations. Bilal Rawat acted as lead counsel to the COI.
The COI was established in January 2021 to investigate whether serious dishonesty, abuse of office and corruption in relation to public officials may have taken place in recent years and to make recommendations with a view to improving governance and the operation of law enforcement and justice in the BVI. The inquiry investigated a range of issues including disclosure of interests by elected officials, political manipulation of statutory bodies, COVID-19 assistance grants, disposals of Crown land, waiver of the tender process when the BVI Government entered into contracts, the operation of the Public Service, Royal Virgin Islands Police Force and HM Customs and the relationship between the UK and BVI Governments.
The Governor received Sir Gary’s report on 4 April 2022. He intended to publish it in June but did so on 29 April, following the arrest by US authorities of the then Premier of BVI, Andrew Fahie.
As set out in his report, Sir Gary found gross deficiencies in governance and concluded that it was highly likely that there had been serious impropriety by elected officials. His wide-ranging recommendations included the need for criminal investigations. Sir Gary also recommended a partial and temporary suspension of the Constitution with the cessation of ministerial government and the Governor assuming direct rule. In the wake of Andrew Fahie’s removal as premier and the formation of a Government of National Unity (GNU), the UK Government has agreed that the GNU should have an opportunity to implement required reforms. Should that approach not be effective then it may lead to a suspension of the Constitution. An Order in Council will be laid in Parliament to allow for this.
Bilal was appointed as lead counsel on Sir Gary’s recommendation. He was involved in the COI through to its conclusion. As well as leading the COI team, Bilal was solely responsible for questioning all witnesses including the current and former Governor, current and previous premiers, serving ministers, the BVI Attorney General, Director of Public Prosecutions, Commissioners of Police and Customs and a range of political figures and senior public officers.