Commercial Court judge Justice Barry Leon has described as false, the reason being bandied about in recent times for the relatively high level of financial services businesses flowing into the British Virgin Islands (BVI).
He did not specify the ‘false reason’ when he made the declaration yesterday during a ceremony in Road Town to mark the launch of the 2016/2017 law year.
However, some persons especially in international media constantly accuse the BVI of being a tax haven, pulling people away from their countries to incorporate businesses locally by facilitating tax evasion or avoidance.
Political leaders in the BVI repeatedly dismissed those claims as untrue.
But, adding an infrequent judicial voice to the issue, Justice Leon yesterday declared: “We should remember that those who come to incorporate [financial services businesses] here come not primarily for the false reasons we have heard so much in the past year.”
“An important underlying reason that many come to this territory to incorporate is because they do not have at home what we offer them here,” the Commercial Court judge continued.
“We offer them a stable, reliable society. We offer them the rule of law. And we offer them an honest, independent and impartial justice system, and judiciary to assure them that their rights will be protected and their disputes resolved on their merits.”
Court can do more for the economy
Justice Leon, in the meantime, said the Commercial Court here in the territory has the potential to earn more money for the local economy, especially through international arbitration.
“We can contribute more to the territory’s economy – financially and otherwise – both directly and more importantly indirectly. In the new reality of international commercial dispute resolution, we must do so.
“Our goal, in my view, should be to enhance and expand BVI as a primary Global Commercial Dispute Resolution Centre of choice. And, as not infrequently we are called upon to support proceedings in other jurisdictions, we should have a wide range of judicial tools and resources in the Commercial Court for those purposes,” the judge further said.
Justice Leon noted that, unlike other courts locally, the Commercial Courts are in a competitive business.
“We are competing with commercial courts in Hong Kong, Singapore, London, Cayman, Bermuda and elsewhere. Those courts in many cases are well-resourced, and are increasingly innovative. We are at a time where we have an opportunity to take the BVI Commercial Court to a new and higher level. The opportunity is now.”
In that same breath, Justice Leon made 10 broad suggestions that he thinks would benefit to the Commercial Court as well as the local economy.
The suggestions, exactly as stated by Justice Leon, ARE:
1. An expanded jurisdictional mandate to bring more commercial disputes work to the territory, by legislative changes, by changes to the Court’s procedural rules, and by contract
2. Procedural innovations: enabling parties to have a greater say on a case by case basis in the processes by which their disputes are resolved in the Commercial Court, adapting from other dispute resolution mechanisms – most notably international commercial arbitration
3. Adopting international standards and practices for the conduct of international litigation in the territory by enabling non-BVI legal practitioners to be involved appropriately, as they are in major litigation centres around the world
4. Establishing at least financial self-sufficiency of the Commercial Court, if not profitability
5. Institutionalizing enhanced levels of service to parties and their legal practitioners
6. Making available third party financing of litigation in the Territory
7. Legislating needed mechanisms for the enforcement of court orders
8. Expanding recognition of foreign insolvency office holders
9. Engaging in cooperation and coordination with other commercial courts around the world under new transparent arrangements that are on the horizon, and
10. Importantly, establishing a sound programme for the advancement of BVIslanders in commercial legal matters, both contentious and non-contentious, with the support and involvement of the legal and related communities in the territory.
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