The Courts have announced that they will fundamentally be returning to pre-covid ways of working from Monday 22 June when Guernsey entered Phase 5 of its exit plan from Lockdown. They have, however, also noted that if any of the new processes that were adopted during Lockdown are deemed to be more efficient, they will give specific instructions to confirm that such processes will continue to be used. For example, at the beginning of the year the Royal Court initiated a digital filing trial. The intervening Covid‐19 pandemic showed beyond doubt the value in digital filing and managed to keep the Royal Court running throughout Lockdown, albeit in a slightly different and/or unconventional format. Moving forward, the Courts have decided that it would be beneficial to keep the digital filing of papers for the Friday Court in place and to extend it to other Courts.
The Guernsey Companies Registry (Registry) filings , regulatory filings to the Guernsey Financial Services Commission (GFSC) and Court filings continue to be filed digitally in accordance with normal practice rules using their respect online portals. The Courts have relaxed their rules to file hard copy documents (see below) and on 24 March, the GFSC issued a statement offering to extend certain filing deadlines and simplifying some filing procedures and requirements.
The Courts relaxed their rules to file hard copy documents (see below) and on 24 March, the GFSC issued a statement offering to extend certain filing deadlines and simplifying some filing procedures and requirements.
The GFSC issued guidance on how to use electronic verification to verify the identity of a natural person through a video call on a smart phone, webcam or similar device. Irrespective of the guidance, a firm must apply a risk based approach when dealing with situations like this and must be satisfied as to the validity and veracity of the identification data used to verify the identity of an individual. The guidance offers six practical steps which must be adhered to, in order to enable firms to comply with the handbook.
These rules include the need to have simultaneous visual and verbal contact over a device which provides a sufficient good quality connection to enable the firm to clearly see the face of the individual and also to be able to see their identity data within the identity document (i.e. the photo and details on the identity details page in a passport) when it is shown to the screen and firms must be able to review this page on the call.
The individual being identified must have their original identity document with them during the call (not a copy). The firm must be able to ascertain that the image in the document reflects that of the person on the video call. The firm must be able to undertake checks on the authenticity of the document during the call by reviewing the security features in the original identification document. This can also be automated if the software being used for the video call itself has the capability to carry out authentication checks or by using separate software solutions such as those that check the algorithms used to generate passport numbers. The firm must also keep accurate records relating to the customer due diligence and be able to explain when and how the document was verified and by whom. Electronic copies of the document including screen shots from the call also need to be retained as part of the records.
The GFSC has also issued two FAQs on the provision of “wet” signatures on applications. Basically, where a printer but no scanner is available, the paperwork should be printed, the signature box signed and the individual take a picture of the document and email the image to the GFSC. Where no printer is available, the individual should copy out the signature box statement on a blank piece of paper, sign and date the statement, then photograph it and email it to the GFSC together with a PDF copy of the unsigned final version of the document.
All officers working from home should be registered with the GFSC’s online portals to enable them to make online submissions and returns.
On 8 June the GFSC announced that it was recommencing its onsite routine financial crime inspections with immediate effect.
2. Can searches be conducted?
The Registry remains closed but its staff are working remotely. We would ordinarily conduct a company search online. All searches can be done online and documents can be requested and paid for remotely in the usual way.
3. Certificates of good standing – if and how these are being conducted?
These can currently still be ordered online in the usual way, the Registry has noted that there may be a time delay in getting such certificates.
4. Other searches – how are these being conducted?
The Greffe has confirmed a return to its normal pre –COVID opening hours (9am- 4pm) and that the strongroom will no longer have restrictions on who can enter. Litigation Searches will be completed by our own litigation clerks and not via the email service that has been in operation over Lockdown.
5. Court position
As Guernsey moves into phase 5 of its exit from Lockdown, the Courts have confirmed that they intend to return to physical courts for all matters rather than virtual hearings. It is however clear that the courts have been robust and pragmatic throughout this period. Justice has been dealt with effectively irrespective of any pandemic restrictions. Recently, the Royal Court found in favour of the GFSC in a regulatory matter relating to enforcement proceedings. The GFSC has also imposed discretionary financial penalties on various insurance individuals and entities.
6. Any travel restrictions – UPDATED
Appleby’s Guernsey office reopened for business on 8 June. The Island of Guernsey became the first place in the British Isles to open its pubs and to hold a game of cricket this summer. From one minute past midnight on Saturday 20 June, Guernsey moved to phase 5 of its exit strategy. There are now no social distancing requirements throughout the Bailiwick as all four major islands have become one large Bailiwick bubble. The governments of Guernsey and the Isle of Man have recently agreed to form an ‘air bridge’ allowing travel between the jurisdictions without the need for self-isolating on arrival.
Guernsey has had no new confirmed cases for 61 consecutive days.
Travel advice for the Bailiwick is as follows:
Face masks are now required on all commercial aircraft landing in the Bailiwick.
Since 30 May, non-essential travel has been permitted, however there is still the 14 day self-isolation requirement for anyone returning to the island. This is a legal requirement, and failure to comply is a criminal offence. This measure includes all travel, by any means and still includes travel between the Bailiwicks of Guernsey and Jersey. Any individual leaving the island for essential reasons must take into account the legal requirement which will be upon them to self-isolate on their return as well as the risk of falling ill outside the island and the treatment that may or may not be available at that time in the location in which they find themselves.
Guernsey has announced a trial for a 7 day test for Covid- 19 in a bid to reduce the current 14 day mandatory self-isolation period for people arriving into the island.
Currently, any person arriving in the Bailiwick from anywhere in the world will be required to provide information and satisfactory proof of his or her identity to any customs officer, police officer or other authorised person who requests the information. This information is required in order to enable the Medical Officer of Health to contact that person without delay during the 14-day period of self-isolation.
Businesses need to enact their business continuity plans where appropriate and be ready to change their working practices and implement, for example, home working.
7. Implications for economic substance compliance and residency
Board Meetings and Economic Substance Requirements Guidance was circulated by Guernsey International Business Association (GIBA) on 16 March 2020 in relation to what local companies need to do to operate in light of the restrictions on travel, reductions in numbers of face to face meetings and the possibility of persons needing to self-isolate and yet still comply with their obligations under the economic substance rules. GIBA consulted with the GSCCA and the Guernsey Revenue Service to create this guidance (GIBA Guidance).
The GIBA Guidance states that companies should maintain and retain relevant records that show what their policy was in respect of the restrictions on travel for company officers and the period of time for which that policy was in place. This will ensure that such companies can demonstrate where COVID- 19 restriction measures prohibited the company from holding an adequate number of board meetings in the island or required meetings to be temporarily be held virtually, such as via conference call, video conferencing, Skype or something similar. It should be noted that the normal protocols for such meetings should be observed as far as possible, and revert back to normal as soon as the threat from the outbreak recedes.
The GIBA Guidance also notes that businesses should give consideration to the ability to appoint alternative directors on island who can attend meetings and thereby address any short – term practical difficulties arising from COVID 19.
The States of Guernsey has launched a loan guarantee scheme to provide additional financial support to local businesses facing disruption as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.
The scheme has also been agreed in coordination with the Governments of Jersey and the Isle of Man. The scheme is operating through clearing banks who lend to local businesses in Guernsey.
The States of Guernsey are now actively reviewing the financial support offering in place for the self-employed and sole traders to ensure that the economic measures cover all parts of the local economy.