The New Inspection Regime
The proposed new inspection regime focuses mainly on the removal of unrestricted public access to obtain the residential addresses and full identification numbers (“Protected Information”) of individual company officers filed with the Companies Registry. Accordingly, only correspondence addresses (but not residential addresses) of directors and partial identification numbers of directors, company secretaries, and other relevant individuals will be made available to the public. The above changes shall apply to documents filed after the commencement of the new inspection regime.
The Protected Information of those individuals will only be made accessible, upon application to the Companies Registry, to different groups of authorities or persons as specified in the subsidiary legislation, such as shareholders of a company, public officers or public bodies (including law enforcement agencies), trustees in bankruptcy, liquidators, and inspectors under the Trustee Ordinance, the Companies Ordinance and the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorist Financing Ordinance. Nevertheless, disclosure of Protected Information by the Companies Registry is permissible with an order of the Court.
Further, individuals whose Protected Information are contained in documents filed with the Companies Registry before the commencement of the new inspection regime can apply to the Companies Registry to withhold such material from public inspection. Also, the company may withhold the Protected Information contained in its own documents (e.g. its internal records and registers) from public inspection.
Historically, the above safeguards were put forward when the Companies Ordinance was being re-written years ago. However, due to opposing views expressed by relevant stakeholders at the time, those safeguards were not brought into operation in 2014 when the new Companies Ordinance took effect.