In the letter dated July 8, 2021, and seen by our newsroom, Honourable Willock said he was penning the letter to bring to Mr Raab’s attention “some serious concerns about the operations of the CoI under Hickinbottom.
Among the complaints by Speaker Willock was the Commissioner’s alleged refusal to allow the Speaker to present new evidence showing that he was not in violation of the Register of Interests Act.
“However, despite this newly provided evidence and a denied opportunity to appear before the commission for a second time, on July 1, 2021, Mr Hickinbottom still announced that I was in breach of the Act. This speaks volumes about the integrity of the process and the integrity and honesty of the Commissioner,” Hon Willock stated, adding that he had enclosed his new evidence for Mr Raab’s perusal and asked that this matter be investigated to clear his name, along with an investigation of several other issues surrounding Mr Hickinbottom.
This included the issue of the Speaker’s lawyer being given a bundle with missing documents and when it was raised with the Commissioner he had said: “Some mistakes are more important than others.”
Honourable Willock also related that when he appeared before Mr Hickinbottom on June 18, 2021, the Commissioner’s approach towards him as the Head of the Legislative Branch “was extremely condescending and tantamount to bullying.”
He added that as the visitor in this territory and in his role as Commissioner, Mr Hickinbottom has displayed an attitude of patronising superiority over Elected Members of the House of Assembly and others who came before his commission.
“He has shown a general disregard for the Legislature and elected members of the HoA by calling them to appear as witnesses and to testify on days when we had scheduled HoA Sittings, notwithstanding, some of the elected Members still volunteered to attend in their willingness to cooperate with the CoI.”
The Speaker argued that in the United Kingdom, parliamentary privilege is absolute and that in the Commonwealth Parliamentary System, of which the Virgin Islands (VI) is a part of, if a commission of inquiry is sufficiently like a court in its powers, “just like you in the House of Commons, we should assert privilege,” adding that Erskine May considers his point in ‘Court or place out of Parliament.
He said in practice, the House of Commons has successfully argued that a commission of inquiry established under the Inquiries Act 2005 is a “court or other place” for the purposes of Article IX, and the inquiry chairs in question did not dispute the point.
“Mr Hickinbottom has shown a blatant disregard for this and our HoA. Many persons have also complained about his bullying tactics/approach to how witnesses are treated when appearing before the Commission.”
Hon Willock said an example of Hickinbottom’s bullying tactics was the treatment against the Complaints Commissioner Mrs Erica R. Smith-Penn.
“She was almost run out of the room and denied an opportunity to raise concerns about the commission’s independence on the behalf of the people of the VI. Mr Hickinbottom interrupted her at every turn with ‘cross talking’ against the very rules of the CoI hearings in which he presides over. Many have since labelled his attitude towards Mrs Smith-Penn to be sexist.”
Mr Willock also alleged Hickinbottom’s treatment of a Sara Jane-Knoch of Withers on June 8, 2021, was also an example of his alleged lack of respect for women.
“I, therefore, call on you to investigate his behaviour as it relates to the treatment of Members of the HoA when we had sittings, and when they appeared before him.”
Hon Willock further questioned the integrity of the Commissioner.
“There are also questions raised by witnesses and in the public domain, that if this is truly an independent CoI, why did Mr Hickinbottom arrive in the VI on the same flight with the ex-Governor Augustus J. U. Jaspert and why has the Commissioner allegedly been seen meeting with the current Governor Mr John J. Rankin CMG?”
Mr Willock told Mr Raab he was “humbly and politely” requesting that a number of concerns are addressed via an investigation.
He said this included Hickinbottom’s alleged dishonesty in regards to whether the Speaker is in breach of the Register of Interests Act; why items were left out of his Attorney (Silk Legal) bundle on the day he appeared before the CoI; Hickinbottom’s alleged disrespect and disregard for the House of Assembly and his bullying treatment of the House Members and other witnesses; and to investigate if he has displayed sexist behaviour against the Complaints Commissioner Erica R. Smith-Penn and other witnesses.
The Speaker also requested Mr Raab to provide him with evidence that the VI truly has an independent CoI “with an explanation about why the former and current Governors had meetings with the Commissioner and that this is not a conclusion already written.”