Bribery Act used for the first time, SMEs need to take note

It is rather ironic that the first use of the Bribery Act has been against a court official rather than against a company as you might imagine the law was intended to reach. The prosecution has raised more criticism about the far reaching nature of this recent act and the approach that it is taking to enforcement.

The first prosecution has been brought against a clerk in a Magistrates court. The clerk, Munir Patel has been charged under section two of the act for accepting a bribe for ‘fixing’ a parking ticket. The court found that Mr Patel was guilty of ‘requesting and receiving’ a bribe. The amount was for £500 and meant that he could not properly perform his functions.

This recent prosecution might suggest to some people that the crown are interested in prosecuting smaller offences rather than the bigger ones and that this is what the act primarily supports, but this is far from the case. The reality is that the reach of the law is wide and that it can just as easily apply on a very small scale as it can on a very large. What is clear from this prosecution is that the Crown Prosecution Service are willing to deal with violations of the act on a very small level.

He primary focus of the act is to  combat corruption within organisations and many expected that the first prosecution under the act would be some big multi billion pound affair. While this was not the case there are rumours that investigations are being conducted into bribery at those kinds of levels and that a prosecution in not far off.

A big part of the act is that it makes companies liable for the actions of those who are working for it and this extends beyond just employees but to subcontractors and partners. The only way that the company can avoid a prosecution is to show that they had measures in place to prevent bribery.

The Ministry of Justice has created a document that should help organisations ensure that they have the right procedures in place so that they can avoid liability for the actions of their workers. The government have also said that the act will be enforced using common sense, not just strictly.

Some have raised concerns that the act is very wide reaching and will affect companies who only have small operations in the UK but a large international presence. The act can be enforced on any company that has business in the UK and it does not matter whether the bribery offence has occurred elsewhere. This is very wide ranging and the guidance issued from the government says that it will only affect companies who have significant interests in the UK, just being listed on the stock exchange wouldn’t count.

The Serious Fraud Office disagrees and the day the act was implemented they issued a statement saying they would aggressively pursue any company breaking the law, even if they had just a very small interest in the UK. Richard Alderman is the director of the SFO and has said, “I encourage people to tip us off about bribery within their organisations, international or not, we are going to go after accusations and bring the guilty parties to justice.”