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It has been a year since the much-heralded Bribery Act came into force, making it a criminal offence to offer, give or receive a bribe, and introducing a corporate offence of failure to prevent bribery. The Act has a wide international reach and is very broad in scope, going much further, for example, than its well-known US equivalent, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. It is also as much an issue for HR as it is the legal department.
Some might argue the Act has so far proved a rather damp squib. Despite predictions to the contrary, we have not yet seen a raft of high-profile cases and convictions. In fact, so far there has only been one conviction - of a court clerk who had his sentence cut on appeal. In addition, the budget of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has been slashed, reducing its investigative and prosecuting capability.
However, organisations should not be complacent. In the case of the court clerk, the fact remains that a four-year prison sentence is a substantial penalty, reflecting what the Court of Appeal emphasised was a serious case of corruption and misconduct in a public office. Also, the SFO investigates and prosecutes the most serious and complex cases, and such cases take time. Since the Bribery Act came into force, the SFO has continued to pursue cases and has secured convictions under previous laws. Moreover, its new director is keen to make his mark. It is just a matter of time therefore before the SFO brings a major corporate corruption case, and in the meantime the Government is proposing to introduce US-style deferred prosecution agreements. These would provide a much clearer legal basis for the regulators to negotiate financial settlements with corporates in bribery and corruption cases.
Employers must ensure adequate procedures are in place
In relation to the Bribery Act, HR teams should understand that problems can arise when not only employees, but also agents, consultants and the like are engaged in bribery, in combination with a corporate failure to take all reasonable steps to prevent the bribery. The onus is firmly on employers to maintain adequate procedures designed to prevent bribery by those who perform services for or on behalf of them. If they do not, the organisation faces potentially unlimited fines, while the individuals at fault risk imprisonment for up to 10 years.
HR teams have a key role in ensuring adequate anti-bribery and corruption (ABC) procedures ar