The Guernsey Companies Registry (Registry) filings , regulatory filings to the Guernsey Financial Services Commission (GFSC) and Court filings can 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.
2. Can searches be conducted?
The Registry is now 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. Whilst this process has not yet been affected by COVID 19, there may be some hard copy documents that have been filed in the last few days that have not yet been placed or processed on the correct digital file.
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. Now that the Registry is physically closed but working remotely, there may be issues with certain documents that have been submitted in hard copy and which have not yet been processed on to the correct file.
4. Other searches – how are these being conducted?
Unlike the Companies Registry, the Greffe has no online search facility, however the Greffe is offering a limited email service for litigation searches. There is a charge for this service and no guarantee on the turnaround time. This additional timing needs to be taken into consideration for all transactional matters involving Guernsey companies which require an offshore transactional opinion.
5. Court position
The very essential business of the Guernsey Courts continues despite COVID 19. The Courts are now dealing with urgent applications only and are conducting many hearings by way of video link or telephone. There has been a relaxation of the need to submit court papers during this time to digital format only. The Courts have also requested that any issues like the need for an emergency injunction will be dealt with on a case by case basis to protect all those involved and the Courts are working with the local legal community to establish any best practice solutions to assist remote working.
6. Any travel restrictions
Travel advice for the Bailiwick is now as follows:
No non-essential travel. Guernsey is currently facing a lockdown.
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.
There is a requirement on all persons arriving in the Bailiwick from anywhere in the world to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival. This is a legal requirement, and failure to comply is a criminal offence. This new measure includes all travel, by any means and includes travel between the Bailiwicks of Guernsey and Jersey, but not within the Bailiwick of Guernsey (between Guernsey, Alderney, Sark and Herm). An exemption list for ‘critical roles’ travel (for reasons that are critical to the running of the Island) is detailed on the government website.
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. (That been said there are now travel restrictions between some of the smaller islands). 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.