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COI requests AG’s submissions on transcript of hearing

COI requests AG’s submissions on transcript of hearing

Sir Gary Hickinbottom, the sole Commissioner of the Commission of Inquiry (COI), has invited the Attorney General Dawn Smith to make submissions as to why he should not publish the full transcript of the Commission’s first hearing held on May 4.

Once he has received those submissions, the Commissioner will then decide whether the transcript can be published, with necessary redactions if appropriate.

Sir Gary intends for these transcripts to be made available on the COI website. Public access to the transcripts will ensure transparency and avoid the misreporting of hearings.

During the first hearing, the Commissioner heard oral submissions from Smith on her application to participate in the COI in her own right and on behalf of a number of identified government bodies.

The Commissioner also received evidence from the Cabinet Secretary, Sandra Ward.

Confidentiality Issues

Meanwhile, controversy arose this week after local media reported on Sir Gary’s earlier statement that action can be taken for breaches of confidentiality in releasing unauthorised details of the hearings.

The statement had emphasised that no recordings can be made of any hearing – public or private – save for any authorised recording that Sir Gary causes to be made.

In response, the Commission’s Secretary, Steven Chandler, yesterday issued a release aimed at correcting what he felt was a misinterpretation that had arisen in the media’s reporting of the Commissioner’s opening statement as to his decision to hold private hearings.

“The suggestion in some media reporting that the Commissioner wishes hearings to be in private or “secret” has no foundation,” Chandler said.

He added: “It is his wish that each hearing is made public to the fullest extent. However, he is required to take into account the rights and obligations of those who appear before him.”

“In respect of hearings in which there are no issues such as privilege and confidentiality, it is the Commissioners’ intention that they be live-streamed,” Chandler said.

Privilege, confidentiality and the gov’t

According to the release, a number of governmental bodies have already provided documents to the COI. With respect of these documents, the Attorney General has confirmed that the government reserves its position with regards to its rights of privilege and confidentiality.

Chandler said these issues affect how such documents can be used and disclosed by the COI.

However, he added that the Commissioner has decided that his initial hearings need to be in private to allow for the secure provision of information and documents over which such rights are or may be maintained. The provision of such information and documents is necessary to the continued work of the COI.

Chandler noted that the Commissioner’s intention is that, wherever possible, the work of the COI should be conducted in public to keep the BVI public aware of its progress.

The Commission of Inquiry was issued on 19 January 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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