Wednesday, November 01, 2006

BVI Constitutional Talks come into the Last Round

Last Friday the BVI's Constitutional Negotiating Team has started the third round of negotiations with the United Kingdom, over recommended changes for a new BVI Constitution. Before meeting with the UK Constitutional negotiators, BVI Government held two public meetings during last month, to get public opinion on what should be included in a Fundamental Righst Chapter of a new Constitution.

The Constitutional talks in BVI started in March 2006, the items included in the list for negotiations concerned sixth ministerial position in the BVI Government, adopting a cabinet system, adding human rights chapter and establishing the constitutional post of Director of Public Prosecution.

The second round of negotiations that took place in June resulted in considerable progress in some of the discussed items; however, some issues remained. The third round of negotiations is expected to be the last one. Next stage will be meeting of the BVI Constitutional Negotiating Team headed up with BVI leader Dr Orlando Smith, with Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Lord David Triesman, in order to consider the amendments to the constitution.

Before the last stage of constitutional negotiations was started the Chief Minister noted that the BVI and UK negotiating parts recognise that agreement on the different points would only be finalised as part of an overall package that would be the basis of a new BVI Constitution.

The list of negotiation points between the BVI and UK negotiating teams is based on a detailed report from the British Virgin Islands Constitutional Commission, which was made public in November 2005. The Commission itself was appointed by the Chief Minister in April 2004 with the purpose to conduct a year-long review of the Territory's constitution, in consultation with the public, and submit recommendations for its improvement. The Commission, led by Gerard Farara QC, was required to report on several aspects of the BVI's constitutional structure.

It was proposed by the Commissioners that the cabinet would consist of a Chief Minister acting as a chairman and up to five other ministers, which would become the principal policy-making body for the BVI. The Governor would also have the power to defer the consideration of any matters that he believed may infringe on the exercise of his areas of special responsibility or be prejudicial to the Government of the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, BVI Governor Thomas Macan has stated that the public had expressed overwhelming support for the maintenance of the British Virgin Islands status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom.

The BVI Constitutional Negotiating Team is comprised of the Chief Minister, Deputy Chief Minister Ronnie Skelton, Representative for the Seventh Electoral District Dr Kedrick Pickering, Leader of the Opposition Ralph O’Neal, Representative for the Third Electoral District Julian Fraser, and constitutional commissioners Gerard Farara, QC, and Elihu Rymer.

The UK Constitutional Negotiating Team is headed by Ian Hendry and includes Overseas Territories Constitutional Advisor, FCO, Michael Bradley; Legal Counsellor, FCO, Susan Dickson; FCO Desk Officer for the BVI and the Cayman Islands in the Overseas Territories Department Fiona Rumney; and Head of the Overseas Territories Department, FCO, Tony Crombie.

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