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Gov’t legal fees for COI capped at $5M

Gov’t legal fees for COI capped at $5M

The amount of money the government will spend for legal services in the Commission of Inquiry (COI) has been capped at $5 million.

“That’s not to say we’re anywhere close to that. [It’s] because there are two sets of legal teams,” Premier Andrew Fahie said during a press conference Thursday afternoon, May 20.

The legal teams the government has hired consist of Silk Law, which is locally based, and Queen’s Counsel Sir Geoffrey Cox who is accompanied by his team from the UK law firm, Withers.

Sir Geoffrey and Withers are working with and through the Attorney General’s Chambers while “the House of Assembly made a decision for Silk Law”.

“Silk Law does not represent the executive arm of the governmentt (Cabinet); only the House of Assembly side,” Premier Fahie said.

Why two legal teams?

He noted that the Attorney General’s Office did not have enough human resources to meet the government’s legal needs as it relates to the COI.

He described this deficiency as a longstanding problem his administration has since allocated funding to address.

And while further justifying the number of legal teams hired, Fahie it said it is important that the government is properly represented.

Here’s his reason: “We’re not just fighting for the individual (in government). We’re fighting for the institution … And if it requires getting some lawyers to help our local Attorney General’s Office that is depleted, [we’ve done so].”

“I do agree that persons should be concerned about how much the law firms cost, but persons must not overlook the fact that we are fighting for the heart and soul of the Virgin Islands and for the name of the Virgin Islands,” added the Premier, who appeared before the COI this week.

What happened during Premier’s COI appearance

The leader of government business communicated that he was questioned on “a wide range of focus areas”.

These areas included allegations of corruption during the tenure of the last NDP administration; government consultant Claude Skelton Cline; businesspersons and statutory board members, Patsy Lake and Bevis Sylvester; as well as EZ Shipping, which was paid nearly $12,000 per day to assist the territory with border security.

Coming out of the experience, Premier Fahie had a few “personal” comments on how he believed the process could have been improved.

“My first-hand observation is that transparency, efficiency, and effectiveness can be enhanced if persons summoned to appear before the Commission are advised of what subject they will be questioned on so that they can ensure they are prepared and they walk with the correct supporting documents and so forth,” the Premier stated.

“I’m not saying that the Commission should tell the witness the exact questions they will be asked, but merely what topic areas they should come prepared to address,” he added.

Broadcast the hearings

And while commending the COI for starting to roll out transcripts of the hearings, Premier Fahie maintained that the proceedings should be broadcast on the internet and the radio.

“While some transcripts are being made available, not everyone is able to sit down and read these massive numbers of pages. Persons who have challenges reading would be left worst off. However, broadcast of the proceedings makes it easier for the public to access and digest,” Fahie reasoned.

The COI recently said it would start live broadcasts after May 31 when it moves into the next stage of its proceedings.


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