At a time when public trust in the Virgin Islands government has been deeply shaken, public officials at all levels must do everything they can to help restore it.
This goes double for police, prosecutors and courts adjudicating criminal matters stemming from the 2022 Commission of Inquiry report, which raised serious questions over the state of governance in the territory.
For this reason, we are troubled by the recent decision by the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force to withhold the name of “a senior governmental official” who was charged with breach of trust late last year in connection with an investigation into His Majesty’s Customs.
The RVIPF routinely discloses the names of people who are charged, and it has done so recently in cases against other senior public officials facing the same charge after the COI.
The circumstances that prompted police not to follow their usual practice — instead issuing a vague 64-word press release with precious few details — aren’t clear.
They initially said they couldn’t name the person because the matter is “sub judice.” But that Latin phrase simply means that the matter is before the court — and to our thinking it applies to all cases once charges are laid.
But when we asked Police Commissioner Mark Collins to elaborate, he cited “sensitivities” in the matter and declined to comment further.
Of course, he is right that this matter is sensitive, but that is an argument for more transparency, not less, in part because of fundamental questions of fairness.
Why, for example, is this suspect being treated differently from so many others?
The RVIPF’s decision breaches precedent not only in the VI but in the UK, where charged individuals are routinely named as recommended by the UK College of Policing’s practice guidelines.
The decision also risks setting a troubling new standard of not naming anyone who is charged, leading to a system of secret justice where the public’s right to know is fully circumvented.
But the task of transparency doesn’t fall on the RVIPF alone.
The decision to bring criminal charges is made by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, which can — but in this case did not — offer further detail into the nature of the allegations.
And the charges are typically first presented in the Magistrates’ Court, which frequently gives advance notice of its sittings and rightly allows the media and wider public to attend.
To date, it does not appear that the “senior government official” in the customs case has yet been processed in open court. But if the person has, it escaped the notice of the entire VI press corps — who would have bent over backwards to attend any related hearing they knew about.
Often, officials involved in the justice system have a difficult and unenviable job. The decisions before them can be very tough to resolve and are routinely subject to criticism.
But this is even more reason to act with consistency, transparency and accountability to the public.
To that end, police should release the name straightaway.