With just over two months to go before the Bribery Act (the “Act”) comes into force, David Cameron’s office recently announced that the Act is to be reviewed. The business world has expressed strong concerns as to the enforcement of the Act and have requested clarification on many of its provisions. Lawyers and commercial organisations alike have been waiting for further guidance on how the Act will treat corporate hospitality, gift giving, off-set arrangements, overseas business activities and joint ventures.
Despite having been through six consultations, the Act still has many detractors – business leaders have complained that the Act is woolly and tighter definitions are needed in order that companies do not fall foul of the Act unwittingly (the corporate offence of failure to prevent bribery is one of strict liability). The Ministry of Justice said on Friday that it will push ahead for the guidance to be published and it seems unlikely that any there will be any major revision. Commentators say that the concerted lobbying may lead to minor revisions of the Act or a delayed start date, not any substantive change. When the previous government rushed the legislation through the dying days of the last parliament, the Act had cross party support, so an about turn would be embarrassing.
The Serious Fraud Office (“SFO”) indicated that a very high priority, under the Act as it currently stands, will be identifying corrupt business practices amongst unethical foreign companies with business activities in the UK. Perhaps they are trying to allay the fears of the UK business community? Conversely, only last week Lord Goldsmith stated that the SFO may well make examples of firms offering corporate hospitality in a bid to secure some high profile successful cases. Either way it seems that businesses have to wait patiently for the guidance and assume that they will need to be prepared for the Act’s implementation in April.
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