While stating that a Constitutional Review is long overdue in the British Virgin Islands, the Commission of Inquiry (COI) Commissioner Sir Gary Hickinbottom has recommended that one be commenced as soon possible within the territory, to be completed within a one-year period.
This was one of the overarching recommendations stemming from the recently published COI report after Sir Hickinbottom concluded that the current 2007 Constitution “cannot take the weight it has to bear.”
He said, “Indeed, although there may have been significant differences in the reasons for this, no one suggested that the Constitution is working. In my view, a Review is required to ensure, so far as possible within any constitutional framework, that mechanisms are put in place so that abuses which I have identified cannot continue or be repeated; but also, that the needs and wishes of the people of the BVI (including their aspirations for self-government) are met.”
The way forward
As a means to guide the territory on how they should approach the Constitutional Review, Sir Hickinbottom outlined several key recommendations.
He said it is critical that members of the Review team are selected from “a sufficiently wide constituency and that its terms of reference are sufficiently robust and forward-looking” to prevent the reoccurrence of any further abuses outlined in the Report.
Suggested terms of reference
The commissioner outlined seven suggested terms of reference. Some of the observed preeminent terms included the addressing of the “unrestricted” powers of the Premier’s position, the powers that needs to be reserved to the Governor, a decision on the implementation of a regime to monitor election expenses, and the manner in which a Speaker of the House of Assembly should be selected.
In addition, Sir Hickinbottom recommended that “there be a review of the law enforcement agencies and justice agencies, with a view to ensuring that the law enforcement and justice systems are coherent and fit for purpose within the context of the BVI today.”
Slow Review under former Premier
Sir Hickinbottom also noted that former Premier Andrew Fahie announced plans to commence a Constitutional Review. However, he said those plans were met with constant delays which resulted in little to no progress occurring.
These include the appointment of a Constitutional Review Commission which despite being announced in June 2020, was not established until December 31, 2021. To add to the slow progresssion of the Review Commission, the reporting deadline for the Commission was extended to January 2024, and to date, no detailed terms of reference have been published.
Sir Hickinbottom said if his recommended Constitutional Review is not completed within the suggested one-year period, the Governor should provide an extension period not exceeding six months.
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