DR. THE HONOURABLE D. ORLANDO SMITH, OBE
ON THE OCCASION OF THE INTERNATIONAL ARBITRATION CONFERENCE
MARIA’S BY THE SEA CONFERENCE CENRE
MAY 21, 2015
“New Beginnings; New Opportunities”
Your Excellency the Governor John S. Duncan, OBE
The Honourable Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, Dame Janice Pereira, DBE
Members of the House of Assembly
Deputy Governor, Mrs. V. Inez Archibald
The Honourable Mr. Justice Barry Leon
Leader of the Opposition, Honourable Ralph T. O’Neal
The Right Honourable Lord Goldsmith
Members of the Financial Services Industry
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is my pleasure to welcome you to this conference as we explore “New Horizons of Opportunity for International Arbitration”.
Let me begin by commending the organisers, Oyster Global Marketing, and its sponsors, Conyers, Harney’s, BVI Beacon and Government agencies: BVI Finance along with BVI International Arbitration Centre, for their diligence in planning this event at this time.
Your collective efforts reflect the spirit of partnership that has built this pivotal industry, and has helped us to navigate the challenges we continue to face in financial services.
This is the type of continued partnership and collective strength that will place us in good stead as we cement our position as a leader in this new era of financial services.
This perfectly timed event is taking place at what I would call a ‘cross-road’ for international financial services.
This cross-road came as a result of the challenges brought on by the emerging regulatory environment, increased competition from all corners of the globe, and other market forces that have changed the financial services landscape.
It is for this reason that my Government commissioned a strategic review of our financial services industry to develop a pragmatic strategy and implementation plan that would chart a new direction for our financial services industry.
You see, we are committed to taking the needed steps to diversify and strengthen our financial services sector.
Almost one month ago, on April 23, I announced the establishment of the Financial Services Implementation Unit in the Premier’s Office to deliver the top 10 priority recommendations coming out of the plan. This Unit is well on its way to executing these critical recommendations.
One of these recommendations focuses on enhancing our offerings with value added services within the framework of more substantive financial services products.
Hence this move today; further development of our arbitration services and establishing the British Virgin Islands as an International Arbitration Centre.
I would therefore like to refer to this event as one element in a ‘perfect storm’ of opportunity for the BVI. Here is why:
1) We have begun the implementation of the recommendations of the Financial Services Consultancy, with arbitration services as a top priority;
2) We have a new judge to the Commercial Court with unparalleled qualifications and experience in arbitration;
3) We are the global offshore leader in international business companies, the feeder to arbitration opportunities;
4) We have a stellar reputation as a Commercial Court that is a world-class dispenser of commercial justice;
With all of these attributes of the BVI as a financial services jurisdiction, it can only spell our success in branding our reputation for international arbitration.
We began this journey on September 11, 2011 when a Focus Group was established to review and recommend a proper arbitration regime in the British Virgin Islands.
The influencing factors for this decision included consideration of the pivotal role of the Territory in matters concerning international trade and commerce, especially with regards to the large number of business companies incorporated or established in the Territory.
We also took into account the need to position the BVI as an international centre for the settlement of commercial disputes as a way to expand the Territory’s service industry. This is because we understood that a growing number of high net worth and sophisticated business men and women prefer the ease and confidentiality that mediation and arbitration offer.
I take this opportunity to pay tribute to our founding Chairman of The Focus Group, the late Dr. Joseph Archibald, QC. This ‘larger-than-life-learned’ legend of the BVI legal fraternity contributed his passion, legal wisdom and vast legal experience to the development of arbitration in the Territory.
This is superseded only by his herculean contribution to the legal profession in the BVI and beyond. His calming presence and wise counsel are sorely missed by many of us, both personally and professionally.
Let us honour Dr. Archibald’s legacy by making BVI the international dispute resolution centre of choice, with the same focus that we have been reputed as the financial services jurisdiction of choice. In so doing, we would continue to secure a better future for all living and working in our Virgin Islands.
We know that the use of commercial arbitration as a means of dispute resolution is increasing daily. We can almost say that arbitration and other forms of dispute resolution are the world’s commercial court. This growth trend will continue as the advantages of arbitration are based on the natural evolution of justice.
In addition, arbitration makes the dispensation of justice quicker, cheaper, more efficient, fairer, easier and less confrontational. These are all very attractive benefits to any person or institution, and will ensure the continued growth of arbitration.
But how do we achieve this? Well, we have created the world-class legal framework with the Arbitration Bill 2013. Key to the legislation is its compliance with the New York Convention which allows for enforceability in other jurisdictions of arbitration awards made in the BVI. This is supported by our known and trusted legal framework to guide the process of settling disputes.
We have also established the International Arbitration Centre (BVIIAC) to provide support and facilitate BVI arbitration and mediation proceedings. Its main functions are to provide facilities and essential dispute resolution services for the conduct of arbitral and mediation proceedings in the BVI.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to announce that the BVI as an arbitration center is open for business!
It is said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and today we have taken that step. We also recognise that more must be done for the centre to realise its full potential.
For example, we know that immigration and labor reform are necessary to help position the BVI as an attractive arbitration centre. Globalisation is at our doorsteps, and ever present in modern arbitration industry. We must therefore consider that parties to arbitration and arbitrators, including experts, may originate from any part of the world and we have to facilitate this dynamic.
Plans to address these, and many other issues related to the wider expansion and diversification of our financial services are being formulated as we speak.
In another example, in addition to establishing the Financial Services Implementation Unit on April 23, I also announced a number of standing committees to provide technical and expert support – these are in place and working.
Two such committees are focused on Labour and Immigration, along with Infrastructure, and they are critically reviewing our policies and procedures as they examine these issues. I am pleased to report that they are quite advanced in their deliberations to produce plans to address the identified challenges.
Efficient air access is yet another vital component to our financial services enhancement strategy.
The planned expansion of the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport is anticipated to greatly support the international arbitration sector, as well as many of the other services we are considering to add value to our financial services product offerings.
As you can see, this Government is making great progress to strengthen and diversify this industry.
I am confident that the multitude of talent assembled here will be the wings upon which our developing arbitration sector will soar.
I assure you that the Government of the Virgin Islands is 100 percent committed to making the Territory a jurisdiction of choice for international arbitration.
My Government understands the importance of opening doors of opportunity for our people to provide many of the many ancillary services needed to support this branch and other areas of the financial services.
We recognise and support the dynamic, fundamental synergy between the international arbitration sector and the international business sector.
Over the coming months, we will continue to build on the excellent foundation we have built in partnership with the private sector.
Our Financial Services Institute (FSI) and BVI Finance will be working closely with the BVIIAC to build the human capital resource and marketing promotion services, respectively, in support of BVIIAC.
Let me close by taking this opportunity to thank everyone who has worked in partnership with the Government to make our entry into this arena successful thus far.
This includes the members of the Focus Group for their leadership; former High Court Judge Justice Edward Bannister, QC and Mr. Jeffrey Elkinson, President of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators for their guidance and assistance in the deliberations of the Focus Group.
There have been many others who have, in some way, helped us to lay a solid foundation upon which to stand so we can get a clear view of the new Horizons of Opportunities in arbitration.
I wish you a productive conference, and look forward to learning of the plan of action that will come out of today’s deliberations.
I thank you very much.