Guernsey reaffirms constitutional position and transparency record following beneficial ownership debate

17 May 2018

Guernsey’s status as a mature jurisdiction and its strong record and clear position on the transparency of beneficial ownership has been set out by its Chief Minister.

Deputy Gavin St Pier used his address to Guernsey’s parliament to confirm that Guernsey’s constitutional relationship with the UK would remain unchanged by Brexit, and state the determination to defend the island’s political independence. He also set out how Guernsey meets all international standards on fighting financial crime and its commitment to protecting privacy for individuals’ legitimate personal interests.

In his speech, he said: “Guernsey is a well-regulated, co-operative jurisdiction playing an important role in international capital markets. Our legitimate current policy stance on the register of beneficial ownership meets the agreed international standards and maintains an effective balance between transparency and privacy.”

Guernsey, alongside other Crown Dependencies the Isle of Man and Jersey, worked with UK Government to clarify its constitutional position following a number of proposed amendments to the UK’s Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill, passing through the House of Commons earlier this month. These amendments sought to impose the UK’s domestic policy on the islands – an approach that is incompatible with the long-standing constitutional relationship.

Deputy St Pier restated the “long-standing constitutional principle that Westminster does not legislate for us without our consent on purely domestic matters”.

Guernsey is not an independent state in international law but has competence over its domestic affairs and is economically self-sufficient, paying no taxes to the UK or EU, and receiving no contribution from UK or EU revenues. Guernsey’s link to the UK is through the Crown – and not through the UK government.

“The history is important because it sets Guernsey and the Crown Dependencies firmly apart from the constitutional position of the Overseas Territories,” Deputy St Pier added.

He said he was concerned that a number of UK MPs had “seemed prepared to dispense with established constitutional conventions” in seeking to impose UK policy in what he called a move which “gave serious consideration to riding roughshod over centuries of constitutional convention, our ancient rights and our democratic process”.

Deputy St Pier said Guernsey should be proud of its role in the international financial system and on regulatory standards.

“Our standards and record are exemplary, and we can hold our head high in any international forum on the topic,” he said. “There is much that other jurisdictions could learn from us. We have no intention of being passive or defensive. On the contrary, we will be proactive and proud when it is appropriate to be so.”

Deputy St Pier stated that the Bailiwick’s register provided the required policy outcome for the UK authorities when it comes to fighting financial crime a fact that was supported by the UK government through a Home Office review.

Information was shared promptly with authorities with a legitimate need to know and the information was up to date, accurate, and verified, unlike the UK’s register, he said.

“We will move to a public register of beneficial ownership if that becomes an international standard,” said Deputy St Pier. “It must be a standard agreed by all jurisdictions – there must be a level playing field.”

“Public registers are not the agreed policy of the G20 countries – we are not the only well-respected jurisdiction to have this policy position. Whatever our detractors say, we are not a 'secrecy jurisdiction' – but we do recognise the legitimate right to personal privacy.”

Deputy St Pier advised that Guernsey would volunteer evidence to a new inquiry into tax avoidance and evasion by the House of Commons Treasury Select Sub-Committee in order to reinforce this point to the UK Parliament.