UK to publish first anti-corruption plan "in the next few weeks", says solicitor general

Out-Law News | 30 Jun 2014 | 4:39 pm | 2 min. read

The UK government intends to publish the country's first in-depth anti-corruption plan "in the next few weeks", which will set out how the various bodies that investigate and prosecute bribery and corruption offences can work better together, the solicitor general has said.

Addressing an industry conference, Oliver Heald confirmed that a review of the roles of the various bodies was taking place, as reported in the Financial Times recently. However, he did not confirm whether this review would be looking at funding arrangements following recent cuts to the budget of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), as indicated by the Financial Times article.

Commenting on his blog at thebriberyact.com, corporate crime expert Barry Vitou of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that while the need for better coordination between the various bodies was unquestionably necessary, "more cash" for investigations and enforcement work was also needed.

"Better coordination among UK and international law enforcement is to be welcomed – in austere times, it makes no sense for agencies like the SFO and City of London Police to duplicate work," he said.

"There is a place for the SFO in its present guise in the investigation and prosecution of serious fraud and bribery. But coordination is only a part of the problem: another key ingredient will be cash. Government needs to invest more in investigating and prosecuting white collar crime," he said.

According to the Financial Times, the cross-departmental government review is focusing on the roles of the newly-established National Crime Agency (NCA), the SFO, City of London Police, financial regulators and the Metropolitan Police's overseas anti-corruption unit. The budget of the SFO, which is the agency responsible for investigating and prosecuting the most serious cases of serious fraud and bribery, has fallen from £52 million to £32m since the financial crisis.

Although the original report on the review carried by the Financial Times suggested that funding arrangements for the various bodies would be considered as part of the review, Heald defended the existing arrangements when questioned at the conference. The SFO can apply to the UK treasury for additional 'blockbuster' funding to support certain large investigations, however this will only be granted on a case by case basis.

Heald did say, however, that he agreed with the need to review whether corporate criminal liability laws should be revised to make it easier to prosecute companies if they fail to prevent fraud or other financial crimes. SFO director general David Green has previously proposed extending the existing criminal offence of failing to prevent bribery by employees or agents of a company to other corporate crimes.

Currently, companies can generally only be found criminally liable for the acts of employees or agents if the offender was a "directing mind" and the act was the "will of the company". An exemption to this general principle was established by the Bribery Act, which created a new offence of "failure to prevent" bribery by those working for or on behalf of a business. A separate legal regime also applies to corporate manslaughter offences.