The Palace of Westminster, the meeting place of the United Kingdom Parliament. (Photo: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

The Virgin Islands government has contracted legal counsel to advise on a potential challenge to the United Kingdom Parliament’s recent public registers decision, according to Premier Dr. Orlando Smith.

A UK bill requiring the overseas territories to establish public registers of company ownership by the end of 2020 received the royal assent last month. If an OT doesn’t implement a register on its own, the legislation states that the UK government should prepare a draft order in council by the end of 2020 requiring the establishment of one.

To explore challenging the potential constitutional violation such a law represents, Dr. Smith (R-at large) announced last week, government has appointed the law firm Withersworldwide and retained both Dan Sarooshi, a UK barrister and Oxford international law professor, and Gerard Farara, a VI Queens counsel with expertise in the territory’s Constitution.

“They are confident that the imposition of a public register would raise serious constitutional and human rights issues and would be subject to constitutional challenge,” the premier said. “As we have consistently stated, our position is that we will not introduce public registers unless and until they become a global standard.”

The legislation is unconstitutional, he has previously argued, because governance matters concerning financial services have been devolved to the VI government in keeping with the 2007 constitutional review.

Dr. Smith also argued that the law violates the human right to privacy as described in the 2007 VI Constitution.

During a press conference last week, the premier noted that while the VI was engaged in discussions with other OTs on the best way to proceed, each territory would engage its own legal representation.

Petition delivered

The organisers of last month’s “Decision March,” a 1,000-plus-person effort to protest the UK bill, officially submitted the petition associated with their event to Governor Gus Jaspert on Monday.

The petition — which called on the UK to “stay the decision” requiring public registers until the UK government could reach a fairer agreement in line with the constitution — garnered nearly 3,000 signatures, according to Harneys lawyer Ayana Hull, one of the organisers.

Mr. Jaspert confirmed receipt of the document later in the day and said he dispatched it to the UK that afternoon.

In press conference on Friday, the march organisers — who besides Ms. Hull included New Life Baptist Church Pastor John Cline and former Virgin Islands Party candidate Zoe Walcott McMillan — held a press conference to outline their future plans.

“We’ve decided to put a group together which I call the Economic Advisory Group,” Mr. Cline said. “And that group is a cross-section of BVIslanders and a couple expatriates that will help us to identify investment opportunities from around the world, whatever they may be in.”

Advisory group

The pastor told the Beacon on Tuesday that he will chair the group, which includes Mr. Farara, Art Christopher, Allen Parker, Sendrick Chinnery, Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley, Dr. Michael Turnbull, Ron Potter, Sharon Flax-Mars, Colin Riegels, John Black, and Darryl Fahie.

The group will be tasked with coming up with new economic ideas for the territory’s public sector and private sectors, and it will take an active role lobbying for its plans once they are formulated, according to Mr. Cline.

To discuss ideas, group members are hosting public meetings, including one held Monday on Tortola and one scheduled for 6 p.m. tonight at the Sanctuary of Hope Church on Virgin Gorda, as well as future yet-to-be-set meetings on Jost Van Dyke and Anegada.

“We are diligently working to ensure that we are never at the mercies of just one industry ever again,” Mr. Cline said.