No sooner than news broke that government wants to pass the burden of House Speaker Julian Willock’s legal fees for a failed court injunction on to taxpayers, an online petition was launched to stop the action.
In less than 24 hours, the petition received signed support from more than 800 persons.
The petition, which is addressed to the Government of the Virgin Islands, has on record that local vlogger Lawrence ‘Bunchie’ Wheatley initiated it.
The government is seeking to have Willock exempted from paying up to $121,000 in legal fees through a motion not yet moved in the House of Assembly (HOA).
An excerpt from the motion seen on the order paper of the HOA’s current sitting reads: “Whereas the Honourable Speaker commenced an action to prevent those persons (certain Commission of Inquiry attorneys) from acting as legal practitioners in contravention of the [Legal Profession Act of the Virgin Islands];
Whereas, as a result of a procedural technicality, the action commenced by the Honourable Speaker had to be discontinued;
Whereas, as a result of the discontinuance, costs were awarded against the Honourable Speaker in his personal capacity although the said action was brought by the Honourable Speaker on behalf of this Honourable House … Now, therefore, be it resolved that this Honourable House considers it just and proper that the Honourable Speaker should not personally be responsible for payment of the costs of an action that he instituted on behalf of this Honourable House.”
The motion is seeking to charge the fees to the territory’s Consolidated Fund.
Ahead of the motion being officially moved, there have been online outrage from concerned persons.
One supporter of the petition against the government’s motion, whose signed name is Toni Francis, wrote: “The Speaker needs to pay out of his pocket. If he is man enough to take that action, he should be man enough to do the honourable thing and pay for his action”.
Another signatory, Aldrin Rabsatt, wrote: “This action was taken without any public consultation or discussion. When the cause was deemed to be an unwinnable matter, it was dropped but the costs were already incurred. Now “we” are being asked (once again) to cover for the unsanctioned, reckless and irrational moves made by an unelected member of the House (backed fully by the elected members)”.
“Anybody remembers when he sued to prevent Honourable Mark Vanterpool from sitting? Guess who is also paying for that? Nah man … enough is enough. Either our leaders listen to the voice of the people, or feel our wrath. This cannot wait. Our children’s inheritance is being destroyed and squandered,” the signatory added.
History of the Willock’s court dealings
Willock had tried to get an injunction in the High Court to stop the COI lawyers from continuing as participants until they were properly called to the BVI bar according to the laws of the territory.
Willock eventually withdrew the matter but Justice Adrian Jack had ruled the injunction was unreasonable and therefore, no other parties should foot the enormous legal fees. Willock was ordered to pay all fees out of pocket.
This is the second known case of Willock aborting a legal challenge which has left the government paying his legal bills.
He had previously filed a motion to prevent Fourth District Representative Mark Vanterpool from taking his seat in parliament. He was subsequently advised to withdraw an appeal after the injunction failed in the lower court.
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