UK Refuses to Implement European Court Ruling on Privacy

The British government has decided to ignore a landmark European court ruling that upheld the right to privacy over the public’s right to know who owns a business. This is a blatant attack on the right of beneficial owners to remain anonymous.

European Court Rules in Favour of Privacy for Beneficial Owners

Last year, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled in favour of a Luxembourg businessman, Patrick Hansen, who runs private jet firm Luxaviation. He argued that disclosing the identity of the beneficial owners of his company violated their right to privacy under EU law. The ECJ agreed and said that member states should balance the public interest in transparency with the protection of personal data.

Beneficial Owners of UK Companies Available to Anyone

This ruling could have been an opportunity for Britain to respect the privacy rights of its citizens and businesses. But instead, the UK chose to disregard the ECJ decision and continue to expose company ownership information to anyone who wants to access it for free at Companies House. It shows that the UK will only respect judgements that thy agree with and disregard those that they don’t.

UK Tax Havens

The government claims that this is a way to fight against fraudsters, human traffickers, kleptocrats and oligarchs who use anonymous shell companies to launder money and evade taxes. But this is a hypocritical stance that ignores the fact that Britain itself is one of the biggest enablers of tax havens in the world. Many of the world’s leading tax havens are under British jurisdiction. These include The Channel Islands, The Cayman Islands and The BVI.

According to the tax loving Tax Justice Network, Britain and its overseas territories are responsible for more than a third of global tax losses due to corporate tax avoidance. The British government should take credit for that. Corporate tax avoidance is a good thing that saves consumers money. Corporation tax, after all is just another cost for businesses. It must be recovered from customers. Businesses reducing their costs by reducing their tax liabilities will results in lower prices. The UK has also failed to reform its own corporate transparency laws and close loopholes that allow companies to avoid disclosing their true owners.

EU States Bring Back Privacy for Beneficial Owners

The UK’s approach is also in stark contrast with other EU members such as Ireland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, who have swiftly implemented the ECJ ruling and restricted public access to company ownership registers. These countries have recognised that privacy is a fundamental right that should not be sacrificed for dubious claims of transparency.

The UK’s decision to reject the ECJ ruling is more about PR and being seen to be politically correct. The UK’s Companies Register doesn’t verify any details of beneficial owners submitted to it in any case. Anyone who want to set up a company in the UK can name anyone they want as the beneficial owner. They won’t get any pushback at all from the UK government.

You Can Stay Private No Matter What

It’s important to take control of your own data. Only disclose to governments what you want them to know. If you don’t want your name on a public register, then find a way around it. You can easily have your company owned by a trust or foundation and have that listed as the beneficial owner.

There are many ways around the increasing number of transparency laws around the world. The ECJ ruling was a rare victory for privacy. It should be commended and recognized everywhere.