The Bribery Act 2010 – unyielding and anti-commercial or the chance for companies to reduce corruption and take responsibility?

After much dithering the Bribery Act 2010 (the “Act”) will finally come into force on 1 July 2011. It is difficult to judge the long-term effects of the Act. It is rumoured that the Crown Prosecutions Service will only have £2,000,000 a year to prosecute those suspected of bribery. Certainly the short term will mean a flurry of activity for both employment lawyers and HR professionals and additional expense for companies all over the UK.

There are four main offences under the Act, the most relevant being “commercial organisations failing to prevent bribery”. There is a defence to this offence if companies can show they had adequate procedures in place designed to prevent the bribery. These procedures are based on the six principles of proportionate procedures i.e. top level commitment, risk assessment, due diligence, communication, monitoring and review. These will all need to be considered when drafting or updating any company bribery policies.

Perhaps the most controversial area, and one of the reasons the Act was delayed, is how far the Act goes in relation to hospitality. Many organisations use boxes at the Chelsea, tickets for Wimbledon and trips to Michelin starred restaurants as a way to woo their clients and maintain a relationship with them. Does this now constitute a bribe? The answer is unclear. However the emphasis is on a common sense approach and what is deemed reasonable.

There is no doubt that the Act will divide opinion. However the UK has recently fallen from 11th to 20th of countries perceived to be the least corrupt in the world (published by Transparency International) and it is hoped that the Act will go some way to rectifying this.

Whatever your thoughts on the introduction of the Act there is much to remember and vigilance is key. Proportionate policies and procedures must be supported by top level commitment, implemented properly and reviewed at regular intervals.
Businesses would be well advised to take action now to ensure that they do not fall foul of the new legislation