(WIPO code: VG) (latest review September 2021)

by THORNTON SMITH, Tortola

General Information

Area

152 sq. km.

Population

37,891 (estimated July 2021).

Capital

Road Town on Tortola.

Language

English.

Currency

U.S. dollar.

General Remarks

Status: British Overseas Territory.

The British Virgin Islands (BVI) are located approximately 60 miles east of Puerto Rico and on the eastern border of the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Caribbean Sea. They include 36 islands and cays, 16 of which are inhabited. Tortola, Anegada, Virgin Gorda and Jost Van Dyke are the largest islands. The climate is subtropical and pleasant; rainfall is light. Most of the people are of African descent.

With a GDP per capita of approximately U.S.$ 34,200 (2017 est.), tourism generates approximately 45% of the GDP with an estimated 350,000 tourists, mainly from the United States, visiting annually. However, the attraction of the BVI as a corporate domicile, which according to the 2000 KPMG Report on its survey of offshore jurisdictions for the British government, accounts for over 41% of the world’s offshore companies, coupled with comprehensive insurance legislation for the captives industry, as well as private sector driven legislation for mutual funds and trusts, makes the BVI a major center for international business. However, it was the trend-setting and now repealed International Business Companies Act, 1984, which turned the tourist-based economy into a major international financial center, and since January 1, 2006 its successor legislation, the BVI Business Companies Act, 2004 continues to maintain the BVI’s dominance as a corporate leader.

The BVI is an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II is the Head of State. The Parliament at Westminster in the United Kingdom stands at the apex of the legal system, which is competent to make any law for the peace, order and good government of the Territory, but no Act of Parliament applies to the BVI unless its application is expressly declared in that Act. Further, the Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty in Council may legislate either under the authority of an Act of Parliament or by prerogative. A House of Assembly comprised of 9 elected district representatives, 4 elected territorial representatives, the Attorney General, who serves ex officio and a Speaker, who may be elected by the other 13 elected members from outside the House of Assembly, is competent to pass laws for the Territory with the assent of Her Majesty’s Representative, the Governor. The head of the judiciary in the British Virgin Islands is the Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, whose administrative residence is in the West Indian State of Saint Lucia. The Chief Justice also serves as President of an itinerant Court of Appeal, which serves the entire Eastern Caribbean judicial circuit. However, as in all present and most former colonies of England, there was always leave to appeal to Her Majesty in special cases, and this has continued with the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council serving as the final court of appeal from any matter arising within the BVI. The Privy Council is normally comprised of members of the highest court in the United Kingdom, the Supreme Court. The courts in the BVI follow the doctrine of judicial precedent, which stipulates that courts will be bound by their own decisions and the decisions of higher courts. A decision of the Privy Council is considered binding precedent on all courts exercising competent jurisdiction within the BVI, even where that decision does not arise from within the BVI, as long as the law under consideration is not dissimilar. The High Court emphasizes the use of alternative dispute mechanisms by implementing court connected mediation. There is also the BVI International Arbitration Center that facilitates dispute resolution mechanisms for international entities in the BVI which allows confidential settlement of disputes and arbitral awards can be enforced by the High Court.