European Court of Justice

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) handed down a landmark judgment ruling that the EU Fourth AML Directive (EU2015/849), prescribing that Member States must ensure that the information held on beneficial ownership registers is accessible to any member of the general public, is INVALID on the basis that it is in breach of Articles 7 and 8 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

Of particular note, the ECJ found that the public’s access to information on beneficial ownership constitutes a “serious interference with the fundamental rights to respect for private life and to the protection of personal data”. Simon Voisin noted “I, personally, have always held particularly strong views about a person’s fundamental right to privacy. If we cast our minds back to the case involving the actress Emma Watson who had placed her London home in a BVI company, for no other reason than to not have her name and home address appearing on the Land Registry, having been subject to years of sustained stalking. Just because property is in an overseas company or structure does not mean it is there for nefarious reasons; central administration of diverse global assets, professional management of intergenerational transfer of wealth to name but a few”

The enactment of The Financial Services (Disclosure and Provision of Information) (Jersey) Law 2020 and associated secondary legislation, which came into force on 6 January 2021, establishing a new, central register of beneficial owners and significant persons in Jersey, set in motion a time-table for the creation of a publicly accessible register by 2023 to satisfy FATF Recommendation 24. Importantly, EU consensus on public disclosure being reached being a pre-requisite for the register being open to public scrutiny.

This ruling will, no doubt, have implications for the commitments made by British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies to establish publicly available registers of beneficial ownership and we await with interest how this will unfold.