The controversial “Computer Misuse and Cybercrime Act, 2014” was taken back to the House of Assembly on 29 July.
In order to deal with the legislation Standing Order 52:2 was suspended to allow the Bill to be read a second time.
In presenting the objects and reason of the bill Premier Dr. The Hon. Hon. D. Orlando Smith announced that it was only four months ago that the House of Assembly passed the bill. However, he disclosed that following the passage of the legislation views were expressed that the bill was not clear in its scope.
The BVI Leader said that as a result the document was discussed and he was advised to take the bill back to the House before it could complete its journey to become law. He said that he was advised that examination should be made of the point that deals with publication in the public’s interest.
As such Hon. Smith stated that the Bill before the House was amended to include sub clause four with provision which exempts from liability the person who is publishing in the public’s interest. He stated that the bill is not designed to muzzle anyone, and that nothing else has been changed.
Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Ralph O’Neal in his contribution to the debate announced that he supported the passage of the bill in one day: “I understand what the Hon. Premier said and I would have no difficulty whatsoever in the bill being passed today, it is in the interest of the people and the country….We must think about the interest of the country! We hear on the television about all these experimenting and we have got to protect ourselves and we need to have this law on the books,” Hon. O’Neal said.
Minister for Health and Social Development, Hon. Ronnie Skelton in his contribution said: “About four months ago we were here and we had a spirited debate about this bill. Our legal minds here and abroad put heads together and came up with this. This legislation is clear that if you do something in the interest of the Virgin Islands there is not a crime committed…We are a small Territory, but we are on the world stage and we have to put legislations in place. Putting amendment to the legislation we passed four months ago makes it clear that people who publish things in public interest are not subject to criminal conviction,” Hon. Skelton stated.
However, Third District Representative, Hon. Julian Fraser explained that he had concerns about the bill and the new amendment. Hon. Fraser’s first concern was whether the bill was made a law: “I have two issues with this bill because based on my knowledge a bill becomes law after it is assented to by the Governor, but as far as I know the bill was not assented to. Is this a reintroduction of the same bill?”
In outlining his complaint about the amendment, Hon. Fraser said: “The clause itself seems to me like a catch 22—-If the publisher can prove that the article is in the interest of the Virgin Islands. It is like proving conspiracy! How do you go about proving that this was / is in the best interest and how do you prove it wasn’t. These are things I hope the mover of the motion can make clear to us” the Legislator said.
Second District Representative, Hon. Alvin Christopher disclosed that he was told that the bill was brought back to the House at the request of the Governor, and he said that the Premier should mention that: “In my discussion with other people I realize there was some concerns with the bill on the part of the Governor which is why it was not assented to. I was hoping the Premier in the objects and reason would explain to the people why the bill was brought back. This was a very controversial bill four months ago and still is. I believe in clarity in what we are doing and why it was not assented to by the governor, so it would be clear to the people, given the licks that we were getting from the media; saying we were trying to control the press,” Hon. Christopher said. He also stated that even though the House of Assembly has the power to pass a bill in one day, doing so does not speak well of the institution.
In wrapping up the debate, Hon. Smith disclosed that after the bill came to the House there was concern by people in the community and by the Governor that the media divulging data identifying government’s wrong should be free to do so, hence he said the amendment was made. As it relates to the point that was raised about ‘public interest’ he said that the courts are well aware of the definition. The Premier also added that sometimes it is necessary for bills to be passed the same day and explained that this was one such occasion.