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Legal 500, 2022

Watch this space – Is this the end for public registers of beneficial ownership in the UK?

A successful challenge has been made by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) to the existence of public registers containing information on the beneficial owners of registered entities.

The CJEU has just released a ground-breaking judgment making it clear that “the general 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”.

The CJEU held that “the interference entailed by [the Anti-Money-Laundering Directive adopted into Luxembourg law in 2019] is neither limited to what is strictly necessary nor proportionate to the objective pursued”. It went on to say that “the optional provisions which allow Member States to make information on beneficial ownership available on condition of online registration and to provide, in exceptional circumstances, for an exemption from access to that information by the general public, respectively, are not, in themselves, capable of demonstrating either a proper balance between the objective of general interest pursued and the fundamental rights enshrined in Articles 7 and 8 of the Charter, or the existence of sufficient safeguards enabling data subjects to protect their personal data effectively against the risks of abuse”.

Louise Prince, Senior Associate in the Firm’s Reputation Protection and privacy team said “This is a very important judgment that takes into account legitimate concerns which have been raised not only about an individual’s right to privacy but also about the ‘possible abuse of personal data’ and the ‘potential consequences for the data subjects…once those data have been made available to the general public.’ It will be interesting to see how the UK will react and whether changes will be made here to public registers of beneficial ownership of UK companies and partnerships, which have been in force since 2016, as well as to the UK beneficial ownership register for overseas entities wishing to buy, sell or transfer property or land in the UK, which was introduced earlier in 2022.”

The CJEU press release can be found here:

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