20 September 2016 - 4:39pm
- I am grateful for the opportunity to give brief remarks on this special occasion marking the opening of the Law Year 2016/2017. We are informed that this year’s address by the Hon. Chief Justice, Dame Janice, will be titled: ‘The ECSC – The movement towards an accessible Court’, a most fitting theme as it relates to the dispensation of justice by our courts in this the 21st century.
- May I take this opportunity to welcome the learned Director of Public Prosecutions, Ms. Kim Hollis QCto these Virgin Islands.We welcome you openly and look forward to the initiatives and changes you will bring about that will help to bolster the Crown in the prosecution of criminal offences before all courts in the Virgin Islands.
- The role and function of the DDP is a most important one for the dispensation of justice and the proper functioning of our courts. These duties must be dispensed fairly, robustly, independently, and without fear or favour. The office of the DPP is a special constitutional office, imbued by law, with certain powers and protections. In this regard, we are mindful of section 59 of the Virgin Islands Constitutional Order 2007 which confers absolute power on the DDP to institute, undertake and takeover criminal proceedings against any person, underscoring the fundamental principle of our democracy and our judicial system, that no man (or woman) is above the law. Importantly, these powers are vested in the office holder ‘to the exclusion of any other person or authority’; and in the exercise thereof, the DPP ‘shall not be subject to the discretion or control of any other person or authority.’ These protections and safeguards are essential to the independence and insulation of the office from political or other interference. They serve to underscore the awesome power conferred upon the holder of this office, the exercise of which must be tempered by sound judgment and prosecutorial discretion.
- I am certain we have in our new office holder, a prosecutor of experience, learned in the law, and who comes with a track record in criminal law and practice that will not only augur well for the status of the office itself, but which will serve to improve the skills and legal acumen of those who work under herdirection. In this regard I speak not just of the Senior Crown Counsels and Crown Counsels, but also of the police in the way they undertake investigation, collect and present evidence.I encourage our new DPP to ignore the naysayers, and be steadfast inyour duty to the people of this Territory during your sojourn with us, however long that may be. Today, we collectively face increasing crime (involving serious crime) and criminality in this small country,with a fragile economy, where our safety and way of life is being undermined by those bent on wrongdoing, and where ‘respect for law and order’ is being constantly eroded. Where indiscipline and open disrespect is becoming too much the norm. Where too many of our young people, particularly males, are embracing bad practices, bad behaviour, and a way of life previously alien to the BVI, but regrettably now quite prevalent here. The end result is that there is little or no respect by some among us for the sanctity of human life, of home, property or business.
- In recent times, we have begun to hear the drumbeat of constitutional review and further advancement. It is being sounded by politicians on both sides of the aisle, and by some social commentators. It is not a steady drum beat by no means. I guess the end of the 10 year period, the normal rule of thumb, is approaching, since the existing Constitution was brought into force by Order in Council of Her Majesty the Queen on 13th June 2007. There is even talk, in some quarters, about independence or preparing for the inevitable, for becoming an independent country. I suspect that in the coming months, some willcontinue tobeat that drum. Certainly, at this stage of our development, it is accurate to say that there is no discernible ground swell for taking this Territory to independence, whatever that expression means in the context and realities of a modern worldfuelled byglobalisation and with it the surrender of some elements of real sovereignty. This prevailingworld order is accepted as beneficial, and to be embraced except, perhaps,for those who are BREXIT supporters, or dare I say, ardent supporters or members of the TRUMP brigade in the USA.
- I have recently spoken in another forum about constitutional advancement short of independence. In my considered view, we here in BVI, ought to take the lead in carving out a new model constitution for the Overseas Territories, a new constitutional construct; one that is better suited to governance of a small territory, with a small population, and scarce human and natural resources. One that seeks to better engage and utilize our human capital,be it in the public or private sector. One where greater participation and representation at all levels of governance can be fostered, enhanced and made more meaningful and effective. To achieve this we must, first and foremost, strengthen our democracy, by strengthening our democraticinstitutions, our oversight functions, our checks and balances. Greater transparency and accountability must not just be buzz words spewed when it suits our purpose, but must become the new reality, the new norm.
- In short, we must no longer be slaves to Westminister Model of a constiution. We need to carve out the 21st century system of governance, one which not only allows for greater participation and decision making by our elected representatives in all matters and at all levels, but which further empowers and protects those who are being governed. It must provide for far greater access to information and documents, in a timely manner, relative to the functioning and decision-making of Government, at both the legislative and executive branches.
- My Lords, what we have is understandably an imperfect democracy, as is all democracies. But this must not be used as an excuse for accepting the current normal or the current constitutional model. In all this, the role of the Courts and access thereto, and to justice, must be at the fore of our considerations and advancement. It is not just that justice delayed is justice denied. The simple fact is that justice is often not there for some because it is too costly. Our system of justice only functions well,or as it should, when all persons, local or foreign, regardless of race or gender, or sexual orientation, and regardless of their financial status, have a clear path or access to the courts and to legal representation. Our young lawyers must embrace pro bono work. They must become the advocates for social justice in our society. They must see the need, and heed the calling. They must be at the forefront of what needs to be changed for the betterment of these Virgin Islands.
- This not only requires a social conscience and commitment, but greater learning and clear and sound thinking. Respect for Bench and Bar. Do what you can to uphold and improve the institutions that underpin our democratic society, and do not become part of the bad example being displayed by some in authority. Do not, by compromising important principles and ethics reinforce in the minds of the public, the poor image and thinking which they have about those in authority and lawyers in general. Do not, by your lack of preparedness or by your lack of professionalism undermine and put in jeopardy your client’s case and interests. Be always cognisant of your duty to the court, to your client and to your profession.And above all, remember and have at the fore of your practice before the courts and in your various dealings, thatwhen a good reputation, or the presumption of a good reputation, is lost it is very difficult to be regained.
- May It please Your Lordships.
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