Britain's Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, unveiled a draft bill on March 25 that will completely overhaul the country's antibribery laws. He called the old laws anachronistic, inconsistent, unclear, and difficult for the public to understand and for prosecutors and the courts to apply. The new legislation, he said, will simplify and modernize the law, and help bring transparency and accountability to international business deals.
The draft bill creates a framework of two general offenses: one dealing with the giving, promising, and offering of a bribe, and another with agreeing to receive or accept a bribe. The other main provisions are:
• extra-territorial jurisdiction to prosecute bribery committed abroad by persons ordinarily resident in the U.K. as well as U.K. nationals, and U.K. corporate bodies,
• a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment for all new offenses and corporate offenses will carry an unlimited fine,
• a new corporate liability offense of negligently failing to prevent bribery,
• provision for the Secretary of State to authorize conduct that would constitute a bribery offense by the intelligence agencies, and
• setting aside Parliamentary Privilege to make evidence from proceedings in Parliament admissible in the prosecution of a member of either of the Houses of Parliament for a bribery offense or in related proceedings.
For those familiar with U.K. law, the bill replaces the offenses at common law and under the Public Bodies Corrupt Practices Act 1889, the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906 and the Prevention of Corruption Act 1916 (known collectively as the Prevention of Corruption Acts 1889 to 1916 and which would be repealed).
Our correspondent from Paris, Guillermo Christensen, who sent us the draft bill, thinks it will cause big changes in the compliance landscape. He said, "The inclusion of liability for organizations that are negligent in preventing bribery by their employees is going to require a major awakening of compliance efforts among U.K. companies and executives (and non-U.K. companies operating in the U.K. . . . even more interesting), who have been frequently quoted in industry surveys as seeing compliance as something that they do 'over there' in the USA."
Justice Secretary Straw also signaled a new tone in the U.K.'s enforcement strategy and its cooperation with international investigations. That follows criticism from the OECD and others about Britain's failure for the past decade to prosecute overseas public bribery. Three years ago, the Serious Fraud Office dropped an investigation into BAE's alleged £1 billion bribery of Saudi officials after the Blair government said the U.K.'s domestic security could be threatened. The U.S. Justice Department picked up the investigation, which is ongoing.
Straw said, "The UK is determined to work closely with its international partners to tackle bribery. We are already, for example, providing technical assistance to developing countries to promote better governance and making significant progress on tracing, recovering and repatriating money-laundered misappropriated assets. We are also supporting the implementation of the UN Convention against Corruption, the OECD Bribery Convention and the Council of Europe’s Criminal Law Convention on Corruption."
Download a copy of the U.K.'s draft bribery legislation released on March 25, 2009 here.
Jack Straw's comments quoted above appear in the foreword to the draft bill.