This Sunday (1 July), will be the first anniversary of the Bribery Act 2010 coming into force. Going strictly by the numbers, the sole prosecution of Redbridge Magistrates’ Court clerk Munir Patel, convicted in October of accepting a bribe to remove a motoring conviction and sentenced to six years imprisonment (later reduced to four) falls on the fine line between damp squib and abject failure.
But clearly there is and has been more to the Bribery Act than first-year prosecutions. To begin with, very few prosecutions were expected in the first place. The Regulatory Impact Assessment anticipated just one contested prosecution per year from the Serious Fraud Office, and only one every three years for the Crown Prosecution Service. More pertinently, the Act is not retrospective and so the chances of a major corporate offence, investigation and prosecution taking place within the 12 months were always essentially nil.
Bribery enforcement has nonetheless made headlines in that time, with convictions over Innospec’s activities in Indonesia and Iraq, Sainsbury’s potato buying and Ministry of Defence CCTV contracts, charges related to Alba (Aluminium Bahrain) and regulatory action by the FSA against insurance broker Willis for inadequate anti-bribery procedures. The SFO even went one further by reclaiming shareholder dividends from the parent company of Mabey and Johnson connected to contracts won through bribery. A Freedom of Information request has revealed that there have been over 600 reports to the SFO Confidential ‘tip-off service’ since January (although none had resulted in investigation at the time of the request), whilst in March 2012, the SFO revealed that 20 companies had self-reported since July.
We live in an age of increasing corporate and personal accountability as banks and tax avoiders alike know only too well. The Bribery Act will change corporate behaviour but there will need to be active enforcement with a proportionate response for those who self report. Without active enforcement only lip service will be paid to this Act, as was the case until quite recently with the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act until the US prosecutors started to enforce it more rigorously.