Supreme Court of the United States Virgin Islands
Supreme Court of the United States Virgin Islands

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History of the Court

Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands

Congress in 1984 authorized the establishment of an appellate court for the Virgin Islands to be created by the Legislature in its discretion. In 2004 the Legislature, acting on such Congressional authority, established the Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands as the highest court of the Virgin Islands. The Court assumed its appellate jurisdiction on January 29, 2007. The court presently consists of a chief justice and two associate justices. The court is assisted by the service of active judges of the Superior Court and of retired judges of courts of record of the Virgin Islands who serve as Designated Justices to fill vacancies on the court caused by disqualifications or other absences.

The Virgin Islands Supreme Court is the equivalent of a state supreme court. As the highest court for the Virgin Islands, the Supreme Court is authorized to review all final orders, judgments and specified interlocutory orders of the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands. Cases before the court are determined by three justices and a decision by two justices is required for a decision of the court.

The Supreme Court has exclusive jurisdiction over members of the legal profession and of admissions to the bar. The Court oversees the established organized integrated Virgin Islands Bar Association and has the power to approve the rules regarding attorney discipline. The Court also approves the rules regarding attorney conduct and has established rules governing the admission of members of the Virgin Islands Bar Virgin Islands Bar; and the discipline of attorneys and the practice of law in the Virgin Islands.

 

Brief History Of The Virgin Islands Judiciary

The judiciary of the Virgin Islands is now on the brink of becoming a twenty-first century court system, with a framework that was established almost a century ago. Having evolved from three Police Courts in the cities of Frederiksted, Christiansted, and Charlotte Amalie, the current system boasts the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands in each judicial district of St. Thomas/St. John and St. Croix and now, a Supreme Court of the U.S. Virgin Islands that will be tasked with hearing the appeals from the Superior Court territory-wide.  

   

The beginnings of the Virgin Islands judiciary were rooted in the 1921 Codes of St. Thomas and St. John and St. Croix which established the police courts.  

   

On July 22, 1954, the Revised Organic Act of the Virgin Islands was amended and approved. Section 21 of that Act vested judicial power in a court of record called the District Court of the Virgin Islands and in any lower courts established by local law. The three Police Courts were then abolished and two municipal courts were established: one for St. Thomas and St. John and one for St. Croix.   

   

After a decade of this judicial structure, the make-up of the local judiciary matured yet again. On March 1, 1965, the two municipal courts were combined into a single court called the Municipal Court of the Virgin Islands.  

   

On September 9, 1976, the Legislature of the Virgin Islands established the forerunner of today's Superior Court of the Virgin Islands in accordance with Act. No. 3876 ( 5, Sess. L. 1976, p. 17.) The Municipal Court of the Virgin Islands' name was changed to the Territorial Court of the Virgin Islands. Almost three decades later, the Territorial Court gained a substantial amount of judicial autonomy. This was authorized by the 1984 amendments to the Revised Organic Act of 1954 and triggered by local enactments by the Legislature as well as the Governor of the Virgin Islands.    

   

On October 1, 1991, the Territorial Court obtained jurisdiction over all local civil actions in accordance with 4 V.I. Code Ann. 76(a). Effective January 1, 1994, pursuant to Act 5890, the Legislature of the Virgin Islands granted original jurisdiction in all criminal matters to the Territorial Court.  

   

On October 29, 2004, Act No. 6687 established a Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands and officially changed the name of the Territorial Court of the Virgin Islands to the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands.  

   

On July 19, 2006, Governor Charles W. Turnbull, Ph.D nominated the Honorable Rhys S. Hodge, Honorable Maria M. Cabret and Honorable Ive Arlington Swan, as the first three justices of the Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands and designated the Honorable Rhys S. Hodge as the first Chief Justice. On October 27, 2006, the Twenty-Sixth Legislature of the Virgin Islands unanimously confirmed the three legal stalwarts, setting a monumental precedent in Virgin Islands history.  

   

The investiture of the first Justices of the Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands occurred on December 18, 2006, and not only made an indelible mark in the history of the Virgin Islands, but complements the progressive framework of the local judiciary that was established more than half a century ago.    

   

The Virgin Islands' Judiciary has now joined the other states and territories of the union with a judicial structure that speaks to its own progressive autonomy. Its current status is due in no small measure to the tireless efforts of the governors, delegates, and law makers of this territory, and the dedicated persistence of the territory's esteemed jurists, both past and present, whose commitment to the administration of justice is only paralleled by their commitment to the people of the Virgin Islands.  

   

On January 29, 2007, the Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands officially assumed appellate jurisdiction over all appeals in the Virgin Islands. In so doing the Supreme Court dislodged all appellate jurisdiction from the Appellate Division of the District Court, which now will retain appellate jurisdiction to conclude the cases filed prior to January 29, 2007.  

  

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