As the return of the Commercial Court draws near, it is appropriate to reflect on what the Government, the Commercial Court and the wider Dispute Resolution community of the British Virgin Islands have achieved since Hurricane Irma struck on 6 September 2017:
In the immediate aftermath of Irma, the financial services industry established an Alliance of BVI Professional Services Business. The industry worked together to locate and evacuate employees and their family members.
Business continuity plans were initiated. Appleby suffered only superficial damage to its BVI office, and resumed operations from that office as soon as it was logistically practical to do so.
With effect from 25 September 2017, the Commercial Court resumed operations in St Lucia with a full complement of two judges, hearing its scheduled list. The effect of Irma was therefore to disrupt the list for less than two weeks.
The Court was quick to accommodate the reality that a majority of BVI practitioners had been forced to disperse, temporarily, to foreign offices around the world. By 28 September 2017 the Chief Justice signed into effect the “Emergency Measures Practice Direction”, which facilitated the use of video conferencing and telephone hearings for all unopposed or ex-parte applications, and introduced a regime for e-filing and the electronic service of documents.
Within a week of the Court announcing its move to St Lucia, Appleby had begun to relocate part of its Dispute Resolution team to St Lucia, so that the needs of clients (and, in particular, the needs of those with urgent hearings) could be accommodated. Appleby appeared in a matter on the very first day that the Court began to operate from St Lucia and also on 19 December 2017, the last day that the Court sat in St Lucia.
By 13 October 2017, the Court had already heard well over 100 matters. In the period that the Court sat in St Lucia, Appleby acted on behalf of a Russian client that brought a complex jurisdiction challenge, obtained injunctions and receivership orders, appeared at numerous directions hearings, made and obtained winding up orders, and obtained relief on behalf of liquidators. The Court of Appeal also continued to sit in St Lucia.
Despite the unexpected challenges which the Court faced during the course of the year, the High Court Registry completed a move, already in progress when Irma struck, to more spacious and suitable accommodation. The Court has also announced that it is on schedule to launch its E-Litigation Portal towards the end of 2018, with trials set to begin by the middle of next year. The E-Litigation Portal is an integrated e-filing and case management platform, which will allow designated users access to assigned services anytime, anywhere and on any device, including on smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops.
Meanwhile, Wallbank J demitted office in mid-December 2017. With effect from January 2018, his seat on the bench will be filled for three months by David Chivers QC, a well-respected English QC, with a practice which focuses on company, insolvency and restructuring work.