Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


Britain unveils bribery bill

May 2009

British companies could be prosecuted under proposed  new legislation for failing to stop employees becoming involved in bribery.

The draft Bribery Bill, newly announced by the Justice Ministry, will introduce a corporate offence of  ‘negligent failure to prevent bribery by persons working on behalf of a business’.

Companies would avoid such a conviction only by showing they had established ‘good systems’ to prevent bribery, although there is no detail yet as to how this would be judged upon. Convicted companies could suffer financial penalties, including exclusion from bidding for international public works contracts.

The Bill is intended to replace a mish-mash of common law measures and the Prevention of Corruption Acts 1889-1916, which have rarely led to prosecutions. Britain has long been criticized for failing to counteract corporate bribery effectively, particularly in contrast to the US.

If it remains unchanged the legislation will encourage businesses to set up anti-bribery safeguards to ensure all employees know the risks surrounding bribery, and will demand that ‘adequate systems exist to manage these risks’.

It will also:
  make it an offence to give, promise or offer a bribe and to request, agree to receive or accept a bribe at home or abroad
  increase the maximum penalty for bribery from seven to ten years’ imprisonment, with an unlimited fine
  ensure evidence from parliamentary proceedings can be considered in bribery cases by the courts.

Steve Head, detective chief superintendent in the City of London police economic crime department, said the legislation would strengthen prosecutors’ options.

‘Had we been able to employ this proposed bribery legislation earlier, our effectiveness in seeking out the full extent of corporate criminal liability might well have proved greater,’ he said. Only one successful prosecution under a 2001 law on the bribery of foreign public officials has been brought in Britain so far.

The Bill, based largely on a 2008 Law Commission report called Reforming bribery, will undergo pre-legislative scrutiny by a committee before being presented to MPs during the next parliamentary session. The present session ends in October.

Ministry of Justice | UK & NI Ireland | Bribery

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