British Virgin Islands Commercial Law

Monday, 01 October 2012
A review of British Virgin Islands Commercial Law, by Harney Westwood & Riegels.

One of the main problems for practitioners working across multiple jurisdictions can be the dearth of specialist legal textbooks. Harneys’ new textbook British Virgin Islands Commercial Law now means that the British Virgin Islands (BVI) has an up-to-date text covering what are – for trusts and estates practitioners – the main subjects of interest in this increasingly popular and important offshore jurisdiction.

BVI is a leading trust jurisdiction and this is reflected in the book, which has a detailed chapter on BVI trust law. The chapter on trusts helpfully combines the general principles of wider application with topics where the position has been modified by BVI legislation, such as VISTA, non-charitable purpose trusts, reserved power trusts and private trust companies (PTCs).

Many offshore jurisdictions have sought to provide a wider range of asset-holding structures, often to counteract the reluctance of settlors (usually from non-trust jurisdictions) to put their assets into structures where they have little or no control over the assets. While the BVI has not (yet) followed the lead of other jurisdictions (such as Jersey and Guernsey) in introducing legislation to permit the establishment of foundations, it was one of the earlier jurisdictions to introduce a special trust regime in the form of VISTA, which came into effect in 2004. As one would expect, the book has a comprehensive section on VISTA trusts, not only containing a helpful commentary on the legislation, but also setting out the background and purpose of the regime, together with practical issues that arise in the context of these trusts.

BVI is, perhaps, most commonly known for the many companies registered there, so it comes as no surprise that the book contains a detailed chapter on BVI company law, again combining the general principles and the BVI-specific rules that apply.

It will not only be the chapters on trusts and companies that interest those involved in trust and estate work. BVI has been the forum for litigation arising from the collapse of the Madoff investment funds (see, for example, the Fairfield Sentry litigation) and the book contains helpful chapters on the subject of financial services and investment funds as well as insolvency. Also included are chapters on credit and security, property law and dispute resolution.

The chapter on dispute resolution provides helpful guidance on litigating in the BVI and covers all aspects of the litigation process, from commencing proceedings through to the enforcement of judgments. It also deals with the various interim remedies available, including issues relating to freestanding injunctive relief.

Reviewing a legal textbook is always difficult, as even the most dedicated reviewer is unlikely to sit down and read from cover to cover. My preferred approach is to use a book in practice over several months and to ask, at the end of the period, whether the book has been useful. Many fail the test and are then consigned to the bookshelf. However, that will certainly not be the fate of British Virgin Islands Commercial Law, which has proved invaluable as a first port of call when researching BVI legal issues. In particular, it came into its own when I was litigating in the BVI: an issue concerning the regulation of PTCs arose and a quick look in the relevant chapter provided a clear and helpful answer.

One concern with a textbook that has such a broad subject matter (and one in which there are such frequent and important developments) is the speed with which developments in the law can cause it to become out of date. This is certainly something that may be an issue for the future, but no doubt supplements will be produced in due course. British Virgin Islands Commercial Law will almost certainly become an essential part of the legal library for anyone whose practice involves BVI work.

Title: British Virgin Islands Commercial Law

Authors: Harney Westwood & Riegels, edited by Colin Riegels and Ian Mann

ISBN: 9789626614624

Price: GBP362

Publisher: Sweet & Maxwell Asia Ltd

Author block
Richard Wilson

Richard Wilson TEP is a barrister at 3 stone buildings and an editor of the Trust Quarterly Review.

STEP Journal
British Virgin Islands