No Thanks! Legislators decline AG’s legal services in COI
In a perplexing twist, legislators have chosen to decline the services of Attorney General (AG) Dawn Smith as their Counsel in the ongoing Commission of Inquiry (COI).
The lawmakers have opted instead to be represented by BVI law firm, Silk Legal.
The legislators, citing concerns of conflict of interest through Silk Legal attorneys Richard Rowe and Daniel Davies, argued that the AG had “been requested to give evidence before the Commission of Inquiry”.
Rowe confirmed at a hearing on May 7, 2021 that his application was not made by the House of Assembly as a body – but rather by 14 of the 15 Members of the House (excluding the AG) as individuals in their official capacity as part of the legislature.
Previously, Smith argued steadfastly before Commissioner Sir Gary Hickinbottom that there was no inherent conflict of interest in her ability to represent the Members of the House of Assembly and said she was “uniquely well placed” to do so.
In that previous hearing, despite her heavy workload and whilst indicating she maintained a neutral stance in respect of the application, the AG expressed herself ready, willing and able to represent each of the Members of the House in respect of the COI.
“As appeared to be common ground at the time, there was no conflict of interest in her acting for both Ministers and Members of the House, particularly as their respective interest in the COI was essentially the same.” Sir Gary said in his ruling on the issue.
Part of Silk Legal’s contention was that AG Smith has a conflict given that she was a Permanent Secretary to the Office of the Premier as recently as 2019 and was also the General Counsel to the Financial Services Commission (FSC).
They felt that she would, as such, be made a “compellable witness before the Commission of Inquiry”.
This, however, did not appear to be the main or even the most important challenge to the AG’s prior denial of a conflict of interest.
Silk Legal further argued that AG Smith has a “vested interest in the outcome of the enquiry [sic]” because she has two brothers who will also be subject to the inquiry; namely former Financial Secretary Neil Smith and Managing Director of the BVI Airports Authority, Clive Smith.
In yet another submission by Silk Legal, they argued that “it would be open for the representatives of the present House of Assembly to cross-examine [the AG], as they are no doubt to be considered participants in the Commission of Inquiry.”
Three the hard way
Sir Gary said while he did not express a view on the submissions for a change of representation, three of the Ministers who are before the COI expressed confidence in the AG’s representation and will continue to be represented by her.
He stated that they are now making arguments that are of a “diametrically opposite effect”.
While accepting that a Member of the House who is also a Minister has two constitutionally distinct public posts, Sir Gary said, “the three Ministers cannot have it both ways”.
Those ministers have been identified as Andrew Fahie (Premier and Minister of Finance), Carvin Malone (Minister for Health and Social Security) and Vincent Wheatley (Minister for Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration).
Sir Gary, in his assessment of the submissions by Silk Legal said, while part of the submissions lack clarity, “whatever they have in mind, it is clear that the Members of the House for whom Silk Legal act reserve the right to be antagonistic to whatever she might put forward and may wish to controvert her and “cross examine” her on it.”
Just recently, attorneys Rowe and Davies of Silk Legal appeared on the Honestly Speaking radio show with host, Claude Skelton Cline.
There, Rowe decried the apparent colonial bent of the Inquiry and referred to it as a “last lick from the outgoing Governor [Gus Jaspert]”.
Openly questioning its foundation in the process, he further argued that no prima facie case had been established to begin the COI.
Meanwhile, it remains unclear what kind of bill taxpayers will be left to face now that yet another law firm in the form of Silk Legal has been brought into the fold to defend the interests of the legislators.
Already, Queens Counsel Sir Geoffrey Cox has joined the team at the BVI government’s behest to represent their interests.
While the AG accepted the proposition that, by instructing Silk Legal, there would be an additional burden on the BVI public purse, Attorney Rowe told Sir Gary that it was “unlawful” for him to question the financial prudence of the move and whether it would result in a duplication of efforts.
In the ruling, Sir Gary stated: “The obvious, efficient and cost-effective course would, on the face of it, therefore have been for the Attorney [General] to represent the Members of the House as well as the Ministers, etcetera whom she already represents.”
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Ohh… So that’s why Silk was so vocal… Twas brewing I see.
That means all the legislators need to fork out their legal fees from their own salaries.. and that is my two cents there.
Exactly. Imagine these people have the AG there and they still choose to Hire Alternatives. WELL PAY YOUR OWN MONEY THENNNN!
Appears that the lawyers are going to outnumber the witnesses in this CoI
This says it all!! Wasn’t it Hon. Sheep who said treat our local lawyers with respect? Well I would’ve expected the Government itself to keep this promise but I guess not.
They are sparing no expense of tax payers money to defend their corruption.
So what’s wrong with them getting legal representation???
Nothing at all. The issue is WE (tax payers) are paying for it.
Loving our money as usual. Brought before an investigating board for robbing the people, and to add insult to injury you then take more money from the people you robbed to defend your indefensible actions. How sweet our elected officials have it!
The lawyers make a very good point. Although this will be another financial burden to taxpayers any COI must question the former financial secretary. He was a main player in every financial move since 2006. Say what you want, it will be extremely difficult to ignore a conflict of interest when your brother’s freedom maybe at stake. Neil was the FS and also a project facilitator for the BVI Airways project. The AG report stated that the agreement with BVI Airways was to pay out all sums in intervals over 3 years with the final payment of $2 million only coming when the service to Miami was officially launched. Within a year and a half BVI Airways had already been paid by the FS the bulk of the money even before BVI Airways was approved to make flights between Miami and the BVI. Some were made without Cabinet approval but we all know Neil would not have done so without some kind of verbal or written approval by the then Premier. One of the role of FS is to advise the Premier to ensure efficient management of public funds, prepare the budget etc. When he was made an official Liaison for the BVI Airways project that placed him in an awkward position of choosing between the success of the project and his job of good financial accountability of the public purse as FS. Making it harder was the fact that his direct boss was also his step father and extending the Airport and getting direct flights was his main agenda. https://bvinews.com/auditor-generals-report-indicates-that-former-fs-neil-smith-acted-negligently-in-bvi-airways-deal/
I don’t think it’s the kind of conflict they are arguing. The matter at hand is that the Attorney General (AG) represents the Government of the Virgin Islands—and by extension the Ministers in their professional capacity. At this point, they are just giving testimony in their Ministerial Capacity; so she can represent them (they are automatically represented by the AG).
None of the Ministers have been charged with a crime (AT THIS POINT). They are only giving testimony during the information gathering stage. If any are subsequently charged with a crime in a Personal capacity, the AG would then have to declare a conflict of interest at that point, because her first priority is the interest of the Government of the VI, not them personally.
The office should be similar to the Auditor General Office
Silk law has no silks on its staff – just two juniors (one a bit older but not in silk and the other very junior).
The first appearance by those two junior lawyers before the CoI was not a great success!
Boys against men?
In fact it was shameful. I felt embarassed just reading the transcript.
And to make it worse, the younger is the cousin of the AG and her brothers. So I really don’t see the big deal. Is he then not conflicted as well?
So the legislators need to pay for their own defense attorneys. Why should the average tax payer foot that bill. they have nothing to hide as i understand it.
WELL YOU SAID IT ALL AND A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE GETTING WISER TO THE GAMES THAT IS BEING PLAYED OUT BY THESE SET OF HYPOCRITES AND @ PANDORA’S BOX YOU COULDN’T HAVE PUT IT ANY BETTER ?
WE HAD THE FIASCO WHICH THE ESTEEMED IN WHICH WAS ENCOURAGED TO ESCALATE IN WASTING THE PEOPLE’S MONEY SO WE SHOULD NOT BE SURPRISED \ AND ANOTHER REMINDER IS THE COST OF THOSE BARGES AFTER THE BLATANT EXCUSE TO REFUSE THE ASSISTANCE OF THE ROYAL NAVY SHIP ( NEED I SAY MORE
Either the AG has a conflict of conscience in representing the stories of the Ministers or she is in the do do with them. I suspect though that it is the former. Paid lawyers have no such conscience and will tell whatever story their clients tell them to.
But Sir Gary is not a jury and Slippery Law are unlikely to impress him.
Not looking good for Fat Alberts gang.
Yes the tax payers money is stolen then the tax payers money is spent to defend them I’m sure Silk is not cheap and the representation from the UK is very expensive.
what ever the junior lawyers at Silk are charging, it is to much…
They have hired a broad spectrum firm, from the has-been to the never-been extremes. Highly doubtful our legislators will pay for any of this representation, more money taken from us.
I hope these “legislators” paying their own legal fees. Other than that, I don’t care who represent you.
Are represented using the BVI’s taxpayers saving accounts..no one marching the streets yet?
Sheep was just beating his jaw about hiring locals
WELLSAHH,,,, IM FROM HERE BUT I DONT TRUST THEM LAWYERS HERE IT IS SOCKS AND ARE NOT PROFESSIONAL AT ALL!! BACK TO SCHOOL LOCALS!! COI TEACH THEM !! RESPECT
As long as the people possess this mentality that we will promote who from here because of political expediency we will always have this issue. Put our people in positions where capable or not. This is not pouring water on the AG, at her swearing in the house keeper told her to get face he would seek outside counsel, did you hear that slap. Wait a minute did not the master of the house told the departing AG he would still be here if he was born here. Turn the cheek miss AG two slaps in one session. Is it therefore surprising after saying you are competent to take in the law lords of the UK your own from here sheep saying technically your are not silk. I keep telling down island people don’t feel degraded, they don’t like their own will they like you.
Just because you choose an independent lawyer doesn’t mean that “ they don’t like their own” that comment alone shows your ignorance and guess what Daniel Davies one of the representatives from Silk is from the BVI. Outside counsel is simply a strategic move. The role of the AG is to represent the government. Outside counsel will represent the members as individuals in all capacity.
She is indeed a CONFLICT! We didn’t ask for this COI, so blame them for the costs.
Good Going, this is a fight to be conquered.
@ “ I Agree” and I agree with you “ we didn’t ask for this coi” Andrew Fahie did running to goverment house with tales of NDP wrong doing. Be careful of what you ask for you may just get it.
This Crazy mentally and economically, causing the tax payers unnecessary financial burden, Its Political suicide, I undeestand they know what they did, and the shixxt they are in, so they looking for the best..Yes its a big fish game, butthey can sit in and learn,, the AG office has a right to be there to assist with the Government defense thats their purpose,,
Had the NDP and VIP Government acted in the best interest of these Virgin Islands we would not be where we are at this point and time. I hope some are made examples of after the CoI.
Who will investigate the private businesspersons who corrupted these corrupt officials? What will happen to their businesses when the cans are opened?