The Bribery Act is coming soon

If you run a business or conduct business in England and Wales then I hope you are ready because the new Bribery Act will come into force on the 1st July 2011 and it will affect you.

It will create a handful of new offences; but while the offences may be few they will be wide ranging and very powerful carrying sentences of up to 10 years imprisonment.

You may find yourself criminalised for what you currently consider trivial or even normal and good business practice.  One of the main problem areas will be where to draw the line between business entertainment and bribery.  A few weeks ago, a barristers clerk took me out for lunch, drinks and dinner (I think I paid for dinner but it's all a bit hazy by that point).  We ended up in a casino and he paid for my gambling.  Obviously, he was looking to promote his Chambers to me and get me to send work their way.  Now depending on your views, this could be normal entertainment or it could amount to bribery under the new Act.  There's no hard and fast rules so each case will be decided according to the views of those on the jury.

Let us assume that my little adventure did amount to bribery, who is guilty and facing prison?  Well the clerk is, obviously.  But, so am I because I accepted the bribe.  But assuming the clerk is the employee of Chambers then the barristers Chambers (and potentially its members) are guilty of an offence as well even though they may have known nothing about our little trip.  This is because of section 7 of the Bribery Act makes it an offence for a commercial organisation to fail to prevent bribery.

Let's look at another example.  You run a business and you need to buy some supplies (it doesn't matter what exactly).  You look at a couple of suppliers but there's not much to separate them until one happens to mention that he has some spare tickets to a big football match that you and your kid want to go and see.  You thank him kindly for the tickets and place an order.  The other supplier gets wind of this and makes a report.  You could find yourself being guilty of an offence under s. 2 (accepting a bribe).  But, if it was somebody associated with your business and not you who accepted the tickets and placed the order you could still be guilty of failing to prevent the bribe occurring under s. 7... it's a tough Act to avoid getting muddled up with.

As a sign of how seriously lawyers are taking this new law that the vast majority of us have formed policies to deal with this new Act and avoid becoming criminals ourselves!  If lawyers pay attention to something then it must be serious.

While not trying to blatantly plug my services, if anybody does want/need some advice about this then please feel free to contact me!!

Comments

  1. a good idea encased in a dog of a law. My prediction is it will be used against people who upset the establishment.

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  2. I agree that the idea behind the law is a good one, but the problem is that because there were already rules in place to deal with the bribing of foreign officials the government had to go that bit further with this Act, which leads to yet another Act that is so widely drafted that it will start affecting normal people.

    I remember the Terrorism Act was supposed to deal with terrorists but went through a spell when it was regularly used for all sorts of nonsense. The same is true of the Proceeds of Crime Act, which was originally intended to deprive terrorists and gangsters of their funds but is now far more likely to be used against a first time offender (and incidentally, seems quite likely to end up with them being ordered to pay just £1 at the expense of several thousand pounds to the tax payer!)

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  3. Ed (not Bystander)2 April 2011 at 02:50

    "Good business practice"? Sure, in Nigeria. Some people get business by doing a good job. Some get it by giving decision-makers football tickets.

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  4. Ed, the provision of "gifts" to decision makers is very common in this country. Is the giving of football tickets to sweeten the deal really any different from Tesco offering free items when you buy other items or an office stationary supplier that will give the person placing the order a choice of free gifts that are obviously inappropriate for the business to which they are supplying but might be of interest to the individual?

    In any case, I'm not really taking sides I am merely attempting to highlight that business owners could find themselves in trouble despite not taking or offering a bribe themselves.

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  5. Ed (not Bystander)7 April 2011 at 20:46

    I am starting from the fiduciary duty point of view. If you are bargaining purely for yourself, then it's a completely free negotiation. If however you are bargaining on behalf of another, then accepting personal goodies in return for binding your shareholders (or whomever) is corrupt. Plenty of people defraud their insurance, does that make it Ok?

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  6. Just curious. Is the "Bribey" in the title a comment or a typo?

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  7. Ed, that is the point though... this Act covers those acting for businesses where they are the sole owner as much as it does an employee binding a group of shareholders! That is why business owners and their staff need to be ready for this sort of thing.

    deadselkie, Bribey was a deliberate mistake to see who was paying attention... honest.

    ReplyDelete

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