The British Virgin Islands are a group of approximately 40 islands and islets, of which about 20 have permanent residents, situated in the Eastern Caribbean, 60 miles east of Puerto Rico and 180 miles north west of Antigua. The two largest islands are Tortola and Virgin Gorda. Road Town, the capital, is located in Tortola.
It is reported that Christopher Columbus sighted the islands on his second expedition in 1493. Overwhelmed by the sheer number of islands and cays he christened the islands “Las Once Mil Virgienes” – in honour of St. Ursula and the 11,000 maidens who sacrificed themselves in 4th Century Cologne. St. Ursula is the national symbol of the British Virgin Islands today.
Today the British Virgin Islands (the “Territory”) are a British Overseas Territory. The 2007 Constitution gives executive and legislative power to the Governor, the Cabinet and House of Assembly. The Governor is Her Majesty’s representative and, under the Constitution, is responsible for external affairs, defence, the judicial and legal departments of government, internal security and the civil service. On other matters, the Governor is normally bound to act in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet, which comprises the Governor as Chairman, the Premier, four other ministers and the Attorney-General as an ex-officio member. The House of Assembly consists of thirteen elected members, one from each of nine electoral districts and four ‘at large’ members.