Speaker of the House of Assembly Jullian Willock has said the BVI should implement laws that give the House of Assembly powers to override a governor when he or she refuses to assent to a bill.
Willock was speaking during a special sitting of the House of Assembly that convened on December 4 to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the restoration of the Legislature in the Virgin Islands.
He said: “As members and the public probe new constitutional arrangements with the United Kingdom, one consideration, in my humble view, should be the legislature having the power, to override an unelected governor when he refuses to assent to a bill,” Willock expressed.
Legislatures have expressed they are not pleased with the Governor Augustus Jaspert’s delayed assent to the Cannabis Licensing Act which was sent to his office more than four months ago.
Willock said it is an “insult” to lawmakers to “refuse to ascent to a bill without a proper explanation”.
“That can never be good governance, transparency, or democratic practice, notwithstanding Section 79, 2 of the Constitution,” he stated.
“Many of my fellow Speakers in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association who I often converse with have labelled this behaviour as an abuse of power, dictatorship, and injustice to the people,” Willock argued.
Assent a modern practice
The Speaker said he did his own research and has found that it is a ‘modern practice’ for governors to assent to bills passed by the legislature.
“I went back to look at British history seeking information on the last time a King or Queen refused the royal assent. What I discovered is that in modern times, the monarch, governor-generals, or governors always assent to a bill passed by the People’s House, on the advice of the government of the day, as the royal assent is considered a formality,” Willock explained.
He continued: “The last time a bill was refused to be assented to in the United Kingdom was in 1708 when Queen Anne vetoed a bill on the Scottish Militia on the advice of ministers.”
“I trust that by the time we are ready to celebrate our 75th or 80th anniversary of the restoration of the Legislature, we as free people will not have to face such issues,” Willock said.
The governor did not explicitly indicate that he “refuses” to assent the bill but rather claims he is giving it heavy consideration. However, Governor Jaspert has not given any direct response to questions on what is causing such a protracted delay. Premier Andrew Fahie has described this ongoing delay as “unprecedented”.
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