A United Kingdom agency that inspects the UK’s police and fire services has sent a team to the Virgin Islands for the fieldwork phase of an ongoing review of the territory’s law enforcement agencies, according to the Governor’s Office.
The delegation carrying out the delayed review — which was recommended last year by the Commission of Inquiry — consists of members of His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, the Governor’s Office said in a Friday statement.
The team’s arrival coincides with a visit to the VI from Mike Freer, the UK’s parliamentary undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Justice. Mr. Freer’s two-day visit, which began Sunday, was intended to “help the minister to better understand the legal and justice systems in the BVI as well as to identify opportunities to build on UK partnerships and support,” the Governor’s Office said in a second statement. The minister was slated to meet with representatives from the Royal VI Police Force, His Majesty’s Prison, the Attorney General’s Chambers, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the judiciary.
The ongoing law-enforcement review addresses two measures agreed by the VI and UK governments in the June 2022 framework for implementing reforms recommended by the COI. Both are the governor’s responsibility.
Initially due by March 31 of this year was COI recommendation B38: a review of law enforcement and justice systems to be carried out by a panel appointed by the governor “in consultation with the premier,” according to the framework.
Originally due by the end of 2022 was recommendation B41: a separate review by a governor-appointed panel charged with examining whether police and other law enforcers possess the facilities and powers to effectively perform their duties.
In Governor John Rankin’s most recent quarterly report on the COI reforms, these two reviews were combined into one, with a new deadline of March 2024.
“As part of ensuring that agencies are suitably equipped, appropriately structured and adequately resourced to carry out their functions, a review of law enforcement agencies is well underway (B38 and B41),” he wrote. “His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) were in the BVI for a scoping visit between [May 16 to 26], and they have subsequently been liaising with HM Customs, Immigration Department, [the RVIPF], Financial Investigation Agency, Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Attorney General’s Chambers, the Prison Service and the courts to obtain key documentation.”
At the time, the governor also noted that an “expert team” assembled by the HMICFRS was scheduled to arrive in the territory later in the year to carry out fieldwork such as meeting with law enforcers and other stakeholders.
This team is the one that arrived this week.
Report by March
The reviewers still plan to submit a report to Mr. Rankin and Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley by the end of March, the Governor’s Office stated Friday.
Among other matters, they intend to consider whether the RVIPF “and other enforcement agencies have the facilities and powers to prevent, monitor and detect crime, and prepare matters for prosecution,” according to the office.
“I believe the outcome of this review will shape our approach to law enforcement over at least the next ten years,” Mr. Rankin said in the statement. “I aspire for BVI’s law enforcement agencies and the justice system to be seen as models for the region.”
The UK will contribute around $1 million to support the review, according to the Governor’s Office.
The inspectorate, known by the acronym HMICFRS, conducts independent reviews of police agencies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as the overseas territories and crown dependencies “on invitation from the relevant government,” the agency states on its website.
“We ask the questions that we believe the public wish to have answered, and publish our findings, conclusions and recommendations,” the website states. “We use our expertise to interpret the evidence and make recommendations for improvement.”
In carrying out the reviews, the inspectorate said it aims to see the agencies it reviews “through the public’s eyes.”
“We will use consumer ‘watch-dog’ tactics, such as mystery shopping, and ask the public, in surveys, what they think about policing and fire and rescue and where they want to see improvements,” the inspectorate states on its website. “Our reports are clear, jargon-free, accessible, measured, objective, statistically reliable and authoritative.
The review comes as the VI’s justice system has suffered in recent years from myriad issues, many of which have been linked to increasing drug-trafficking activity in the region and were exacerbated by the damage done by the 2017 hurricanes. Additionally, the 2022 Miami arrest of then-Premier Andrew Fahie on drug conspiracy charges provoked international headlines and raised questions about the VI’s stability.
Before that, the COI heard reports of a “vein of endemic corruption” within the RVIPF; understaffing and incidents of violence at His Majesty’s Prison at Balsam Ghut; major case backlogs at the courts; potential conflicts of interest involving members of Her Majesty’s Customs; and several other issues.
The COI report
In the final COI report — which was published the day after Mr. Fahie’s arrest in April 2022 —Commissioner Sir Gary Hickinbottom suggested that the review of the VI justice systems should be undertaken as part of a wider constitutional review.
He recommended that the review should examine each agency’s structure, funding, resources, con-duct and standards — and consider which arm of government should oversee it.
“The review need not be a single project — strands will need to be identified and prioritised —and it can draw on the work of reviews currently in progress in relation to the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force and the Prison Service,” Sir Gary wrote.