BUSINESS PROFILE of Alecia Johns: O'Neal Webster

Dr. Alecia Johns joined O'Neal Webster last year after receiving her doctorate degree in human rights law from the University of Oxford. Dr. Johns, a Jamaican who is also a graduate of the University of the West Indies, works in various areas of commercial and civil litigation.

Someone with a PhD from Oxford could probably work just about anywhere she wants. Why did you choose the Virgin Islands?

I do have a PhD in human rights law from Oxford, but I always had a passion for litigation, generally, and oral advocacy. And I felt as though I wanted a more broad-ranging initial source of practice experience before being pigeonholed as sort of a specialist human rights lawyer who wouldn't be doing the broader spectrum of legal work. So this was my first job practising as an attorney, having gone through way too much school for about nine years straight. I just felt like I really wanted to start out with a broad experience in litigation and specialise later on.

How do you think the topic of human rights intersects with financial services, if at all?

So there's actually a lot of growing interest in the rights and duties of companies. On the flip side of that is the issue of what kind of rights companies hold. So a part of what I had been doing over last summer was doing pro bono work with the British Institute of Comparative and International Law, and they're doing a project on what human rights, as it were, are guaranteed to companies. And there's quite a bit of case law on the fact that companies as artificial persons do hold certain rights, such as rights regarding prohibition against unlawful search and seizure of their property, rights regarding freedom of expression in terms of publication and broadcasting. So it's not something you would perhaps naturally see as coming together, but I do think there are some interesting intersections.

So do you think FATCA and the Common Reporting Standard infringe on the right to privacy?

The important thing to consider is that human rights are generally not is proportional to the state's aim of what they're trying to achieve, and whether that's a reasonable limitation on the right. So certainly regarding the CRS, I think there's an important argument to make that it's perhaps a bit disproportionate to have such broad-ranging automatic exchange of information across IT platforms in a very indiscriminate way. I do think there is a serious argument about proportionality there, and there has been discussion in some academic quarters about whether there could be a successful challenge to CRS on the basis that it's a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which guarantees the right to privacy.

How would someone go about a challenge like that?

I think if it's done with the European Court of Human Rights, it would have to be an individual right holder be it a company or an individual whose information was exchanged, and they can show some sort of damage or violation on their part.

What's it like working in the private sector versus being an academic?

I think in a lot of ways I'm probably not a pure academic, in the sense that I like to see solutions applied to real problems in real time. I appreciate the difference of applying your mind to a client's problem, and knowing that it's something that's going to rectify a real issue that they're having on a particular day.

Interview conducted, condensed and edited by Ken Silva, reporter for the BVI Beacon newspaper.