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Gov’t defies COI’s costly file-request protocol in heated exchange

Gov’t defies COI’s costly file-request protocol in heated exchange

The BVI’s ongoing Commission of Inquiry (COI) has been told in no uncertain terms that the government’s Internal Response Unit (IRU) will not comply with some of its protocols regarding document requests.

Currently, the Commission’s protocols require that entities submit five hard copies of every document the COI requests from them.

But attorney-at-law Sarah-Jane Knock — acting on behalf of the Attorney General who is representing the government — told Commissioner Sir Gary Hickinbottom that this will put a strain on the government’s coffers.

She said the government made this position clear many times on previous occasions.

Earlier, a heated exchange erupted after Sir Gary asked Knock to explain why documents coming from the IRU continued to be sent in disarray, despite the COI’s established protocols specifying how files should be sent.

As Knock began to speak, Sir Gary repeatedly attempted to interrupt her to have her directly answer his question. But Knock insisted that her response needed to be put in the proper context.

“Now, Mr Commissioner, please afford me the respect and allow me to finish because a lot, a lot has been said about the IRUs failings to provide disclosure and I would like to have the courtesy of addressing at the Commission without being interrupted by you, sir. So I will start,” she stated.

“Neither the Attorney General’s Chambers nor Withers BVI (who also represents government in the COI) have the capacity in terms of time, personnel, or equipment to deal with producing copies of [legal] bundles,” Knock said.

Knock told the COI that given the vast number of affidavits that have been sought by the COI, a commercial photocopying outlet would charge US$14,000 to get the job done.

COI website says UK will bear core cost

She argued that once the COI commits to paying for the cost of producing the physical copies, only then would the IRU be willing to comply, as neither the AG’s office or Withers LLP – a government subcontracted legal firm – were willing to pay the costs for the copies.

She reminded Sir Gary that the COI’s website said the UK government would bear the core cost of the commission.

Knock questioned the need for having physical copies of the documents in the first instance and urged the COI to conform to modern practice in the BVI. She argued that legal practitioners have been accustomed to using digital copies in matters before the courts for several years now.

Sir Gary insisted, however, that the protocols were meant to be complied with by all of the COI’s participants.

Government staff, IRU under-resourced in COVID surge

Knock told the Commission that the AG’s office was under-resourced and matters were made worse by the current COVID-19 surge in the territory.

She said this has meant that many government offices are now closed and staff members have been forced to work remotely — denying them access to copy the documents requested.

She also expressed security concerns about what will be done with the various copies of the documents requested by the COI once they have finished using them. Knock said the question has gone unanswered for some time.

Sir Gary said the COI had a great tracking system in place to monitor the security of documents and told Knock that even though the BVI courts are electronic, most of the COI’s witnesses have asked for hard copy documents.

Added to this fact, he said the COI sometimes has more than one witness at a time.

He requested that further instructions be taken from the AG’s Office on how the government intended to approach the matter along with others that arose during the hearing.


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