UK's bribery law set for government effectiveness review

26 February 2018 10:47am
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22 February 2018. By Martin Coyle and Ben Lucas.

The UK's bribery law will come under government scrutiny to test is effectiveness, in a review that could lead to its amendment.

Ministry of Justice officials will measure the Bribery Act's impact on tackling corruption within the next two years, and lawmakers will use their report to assess the need for any changes to the 2011 law.

The Bribery Act will be subject to a “post-implementation review,” the Ministry of Justice told MLex. A spokesman declined to comment on the review's timescale, but said it would take less than two years. “We will publish a post-legislative review in due course,” he told MLex.

The review will focus on the law's impact on tackling corruption. Lawmakers will use the report compiled by government officials to assess the need for any changes. Proposed amendments would need to be approved by Parliament.

Most major UK legislation undergoes a post-implementation review, but the Bribery Act assessment is unusual in that it has fallen out of the typical timeframe of three to five years.

MLex understands that Ministry of Justice officials are keen to avoid any special significance being attached to the review, but campaign group Corruption Watch said it would keep a close eye on any changes.

“We will be watching closely how [the law] can be improved, including by taking on board the recommendations from the OECD to clarify the guidance,” policy director, Sue Hawley, told MLex.

In 2013, several civil-society groups wrote to the government warning it against watering down the act amid speculation of a review at the time. The caution followed concerns from small- to medium-sized UK businesses that the law had hampered their ability to operate overseas.

Last year the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s working group on bribery warned that pressure caused by the UK’s exit from the EU could lead to the weakening of the legislation or its enforcement.

New regime

The Bribery Act replaced a raft of laws, some dating backing to 1906, and was introduced following international condemnation of the UK’s ability to tackle corporate bribery overseas.

The first conviction under the new law came just four months after its entry into force in July 2011. Munir Patel, an official at a London court, was jailed for three years for taking bribes not to process speeding tickets.

Since then, the UK’s Serious Fraud Office has been the chief enforcer of the legislation and has used it to bring actions against companies including UK construction consultancy Sweett Group, which pleaded guilty to failing to prevent bribery in relation to a property deal in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates.

The legislation was also partly used in the SFO’s mammoth deferred prosecution agreement last year with engine maker Rolls-Royce, in which the company agreed to pay 510 million pounds ($710 million today) to settle corruption charges.

One noteworthy aspect of the Bribery Act is its provision for companies to be prosecuted for failing to prevent their employees or agents paying bribes, known as a “section seven” offense.

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