A judge has dismissed Speaker of the House Julian Willock’s claim that government should pay legal costs exceeding $121,000 related to his withdrawn request for an injunction against three Commission of Inquiry lawyers. Instead, the judge ordered Mr. Willock to pay the costs.
On Sept. 28, Commercial Court Justice Adrian Jack rejected the speaker’s argument that the withdrawn injunction request was covered by Premier Andrew Fahie’s May 28 contract with Silk Legal for the law firm to represent the members of the House of Assembly in the Commission of Inquiry.
He ordered him to pay both the attorney general’s costs of $6,084 and the defendants’ costs of $115,348.50, an increase over the figure named in another hearing last month. In a previous “judgment of costs” issued Sept. 13, Mr. Jack rejected various arguments from Mr. Willock’s attorneys over the costs. He also noted that he had previously asked Mr. Willock to file an affidavit explaining the funding arrangements for his actions against the COI attorneys.
In the affidavit, which was quoted in the Sept. 13 judgment, Mr. Willock claimed that it was not his responsibility to pay the costs and that government had agreed to pay them. The judge, however, wasn’t satisfied by the response, and he asked Mr. Willock’s legal team to file a second affidavit containing more information: who in government had made the agreement to pay; whether it was authorised by the Ministry of Finance; whether it was legally binding; and whether it covered the defendants’ costs as well as its own.
Mr. Willock’s second affidavit, which was included in last week’s judgment, pointed to Mr. Fahie’s May 28 contract with Silk Legal agreeing that Mr. Willock and other members of the HOA were to be represented by the law firm.
Mr. Willock wrote, “I have asked the clerk, the accounting officer for the House of Assembly, to make the formal request [for the payment] to the
Ministry of Finance, in keeping with [the] practice and procedure of the Financial Management Act. It is crystal clear that the government of the Virgin Islands will be undertaking any costs associated with my official duties as the speaker.”
However, Mr. Jack disagreed, finding instead that the May 28 contract did not apply to Mr. Willock’s withdrawn request for an injunction.
That request, the judge stated, “has no connection with members of the House of Assembly at all; it is an action to prevent the three COI lawyers from continuing to act.”
He also noted that the May 28 contract stipulated that Silk Legal’s work must only be “in forms that the honourable attorney general approves and considers necessary.”
However, he wrote, “There is no evidence that Mr. Fahie, or anyone else able to vary the contract, approved any variation on behalf of the government.”
That included the attorney general, he said. Lastly, the judge stated, the May 28 contract made no mention of whether government had agreed to pay the defendants’ court costs in addition to its own.
The controversy began in August after Mr. Willock and Deputy Speaker Neville Smith requested an injunction to prevent the three COI lawyers — COI Counsel Bilal Rawat and solicitors Rhea Harrikissoon and Andrew King — from working in the territory until the conclusion of a court case scheduled to start this month.
The October case had been scheduled after Mr. Willock instructed Silk Legal to file an objection on behalf of himself and Mr. Smith, claiming that because the lawyers weren’t admitted to the VI bar, they had been practising law in the territory in breach of the Legal Profession Act 2015.
Last month, Mr. Willock’s team announced that they had dropped the injunction request.
“The attorney general failed to give our client the authority to proceed; thus we had no alternative but to withdraw,” Silk Legal attorney Richard Rowe told the Beacon at the time.
Mr. Willock’s website, Virgin Islands News Online, reported at the time that the speaker planned to take legal action against the attorney general after she failed to respond to his request to support the injunction attempt. The status of the October court case — which is separate from the injunction request — is unclear. It is not listed on
the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court website’s upcoming schedule.
Silk Legal attorney Daniel Fligelstone-Davies said the case would proceed but that he did not yet know when the next steps would occur.