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HoA court matter with CoI lawyers adjourned to Oct 26, 2021

HoA court matter with CoI lawyers adjourned to Oct 26, 2021

The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) of the Virgins Islands (VI), in July 2021, had ruled that House of Assembly Speaker Hon Julian Willock and Deputy Speaker Hon Neville A. Smith (AL) had standing in the case against three Commission of Inquiry (CoI) lawyers accused of illegally practising law in the VI.

Bilal M. Rawat, Andrew King and Rhea Harrikissoon, who are currently assisting with the works of the UK-sponsored Virgin Islands (VI) Commission of Inquiry (CoI) in the Virgin Islands, have been accused of practising law in the territory and doing so while not being called to the Virgin Islands Bar, a violation of the Legal Profession Act 2015.

The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) of the Virgins Islands (VI) in July 2021, had ruled that House of Assembly Speaker, Hon Julian Willock, and Deputy Speaker, Hon Neville A. Smith (AL) has standing in the case against 3 CoI lawyers accused of illegally practicing law in the VI.


Applicants assisting with conduct of CoI


The Applicants, as part of their ongoing works with the conduct of the CoI, are accused of inquiring into and reporting on, amongst other things, whether there is information that corruption, abuse of office or other serious dishonesty may have taken place in recent years amongst the public, elected, and statutory officials.

When it was revealed during the CoI hearing of June 14, 2021, that the three were not admitted to practice law in the VI, CoI Commissioner, Sir Gary R. Hickinbottom indicated that they did not need to be admitted to practice law in the Virgin Islands in order to carry out their duties; however, he directed that they take steps to be admitted anyway.

The Applicants then placed before the court three Fixed Date Claim Forms in which they sought admission to practice law in the Territory.

The Applications were made pursuant to section 68 of the West Indies Associated States Supreme Court (Virgin Islands) Act1 (“The Supreme Court Act”). Under the Act, a Judge of the High Court may, subject to certain provisions admit to practise as a barrister of the Court any member of the English, Scottish or Irish Bar.

The Applications were served on the Office of the Attorney General presumably in compliance with section 10 (2) of the Legal Profession Act 2015, where Attorney General, Hon Dawn J. Smith had indicated that she does not object to the Applications.

When it was revealed during a CoI hearing of June 14, 2021, that the three were not admitted to practice law in the VI, CoI Commissioner, Sir Gary R. Hickinbottom indicated that they did not need to be admitted to practice law in the Virgin Islands in order to carry out their duties, however, he directed that they take steps to be admitted anyway.


Speaker & Deputy made objections to the application


Following the Applications, both Speaker and the Deputy Speaker of the HoA, (“the Objectors”) lodged objections to the Applications on the basis that the Applicants have been practicing law in the Virgin Islands since March 2021, in breach of the Legal Profession Act. They also objected on the ground that the three held themselves out to be Barristers and Lawyers despite not having being admitted to practice law in the territory.

Both the Speaker and Deputy Speaker have also put forward an objection to the moral character of the three individuals.

Where the Objectors will have an opportunity to submit further written evidence setting out the details of their objections and the Applicants will get an opportunity to respond by a given deadline, the matter has since been adjourned to October 26, 2021.

Both parties, however, are to lodge and exchange written expressions on or before, no less than 7 days before the hearing day, according to court documents obtained by our newsroom.

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