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Review into Bribery Act would be 'premature', says expert

Any review of the UK bribery laws which came into force in July 2011 would be "premature", an expert has said.

The Financial Times has reported that a post-legislative review into the Bribery Act could be announced next month and the Government has said it is keen that businesses "only put in proportionate measures to comply" with the Act and that the regime does "not impose unnecessary costs or burdensome procedures on legitimate business".

Anti-corruption law expert Barry Vitou said, that the House of Lords' Select Committee on Small and Medium Sized Enterprises had first recommended that the Bribery Act be reviewed. In a report published earlier this year, the Committee said that the review was justified because the "application of the Bribery Act 2010 has been met with confusion and uncertainty". It called for the Act to be "the subject of post-legislative scrutiny by a Parliamentary select committee ... at the earliest opportunity".

Vitou said, though, that businesses can take "simple steps" to comply with the Bribery Act and that some firms should end their "complacency" about complying with the regime.

"Given there has not yet been a corporate prosecution under the Bribery Act it appears premature to consider a review," Vitou said. "Claims of the bureaucracy and lack of guidance around the Bribery Act ring hollow. Simple steps can be taken to comply at little or no cost with details available free online and elsewhere."

"More concerning is perhaps the general complacency surrounding anti-corruption compliance. For example, in a recent survey only half of firms carry out due diligence on their supply chain,"  he said.

"A focus on the Bribery Act misses the broader point," Vitou added. "Anti-corruption compliance is now a global issue. If UK PLC wants to compete on a world stage it will need to comply with global standards. Relegating the importance of anti-corruption compliance risks relegating UK PLC to the third division."

According to the Financial Times' report, the forthcoming review will look specifically into the issue of 'facilitation payments'.

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has said facilitation payments constitute a "type of bribe" and that they are illegal under the Bribery Act "regardless of their size or frequency". The SFO said that an example of a facilitation payment would be where officials are given money or goods to perform, or speed up the performance of, an existing duty.

"Businesses were unsure what adequate procedures they would need to demonstrate, to ensure that they would not be prosecuted unfairly for using facilitation payments, which are often needed when expanding abroad," a summary from a March meeting of a Parliamentary committee said, according to the Financial Times' report.

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