A bill passed last week in the House of Assembly will help creditors collect debts through the High Court by going after debtors’ land and other assets, leaders said.

Lawmakers approved the Charging Orders Act, 2019 last Thursday. The bill would help empower the High Court to enforce a payment order through assets such as land, shares from bodies incorporated in the territory, and titles to any motor vessel or yacht registered here, among other property.

“Some judgement debtors seek to avoid the enforcements of judgments of the High Court,” Attorney General Baba Aziz explained. “This bill is intended to confer jurisdiction on the court to make orders imposing a charge on assets which are directly or indirectly owned or controled by a judgement debtor.”

The Charging Orders Act doesn’t just codify the procedure for collecting court-ordered debts, the attorney general said: It also sends a message to those looking to dodge paying.

“The enactment of this bill will demonstrate that the territory is not a haven for recalcitrant debtors and those who would seek to evade justice by means of, in part, the use of asset protection structures,” Mr. Aziz said.

Recent case

Transportation, Works and Utilities Minister Kye Rymer said a recent case in the VI’s Commercial Court Division showed why this legislation is needed.

“[The court] learned that we have no jurisdiction to make a charging order, and the case was dismissed,” Mr. Rymer said, though he did not specify who was involved in the proceedings.

He added that it is vital for the territory to get such legislation in place as it considers its financial future.

Deputy Premier Carvin Malone seconded these sentiments, saying the act is timely because the VI is looking to broaden its economic platform. He added that enacting the law could help build confidence in the territory’s marketplace.
“As we move commerce forward in the Virgin Islands, I think that this is a mature step,” Mr. Malone said.

Deputy Speaker of the House Neville Smith said the bill is only the first of a two-part effort to deliver on his campaign promises concerning asset recovery.

“It’s very important that we [are] able to track down the assets … when the law is broken,” Mr. Smith said. “It’s been too long that things have been happening and we cannot recover what belongs to us.”

Though Mr. Smith didn’t specify what would be included in the second part of this legislative effort, he promised to provide further information when the related law is presented to the House.

The Charging Orders Act was one of three pieces of legislation that members of the House passed last Thursday. As of the Beacon’s print deadline yesterday afternoon, the governor had not announced his assent.