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Time to get ready for new bribery law

01 June 2011

The Bribery Act 2010 becomes law in July this year. Essentially it creates new offences relating to bribing another person; being bribed; bribing of foreign officials and most  significantly for businesses, being a commercial organisation and failing to prevent bribery.

Commercial organisations, directors and employees can be liable for offences under the new law. The new criminal offences created by the Act carry penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment or unlimited fines.

While the vast majority of businesses would not think of giving or receiving bribes, the Act has two practical effects for people in business. First, it lowers the threshold as to what might be considered ‘normal hospitality’ or ‘marketing activity’. Also it creates the need for businesses to have clear policies in place in relation to countering bribery.

In practice, the type of activities that the Act seeks to prohibit may not be so far from the average business as one may think.

Take for example a salesman who, keen to meet his targets, goes beyond providing normal business hospitality to a buyer at a big client. Unknown to his employer, he gives the buyer some form of gift.  In these circumstances, the employer may well be liable for the salesman’s action under the Bribery Act. However, it would be a defence for the employer to show that they had a proper anti-bribery policy in place and that the salesman had acted without their knowledge and consent.

The new Act will certainly raise the profile of issues concerning what is – and is not – appropriate for businesses to give and receive in the marketplace. The message for employers is to ensure they have a clear anti-bribery policy and can show that it has been brought to the attention of all of its officers and employees.

If the employer can safely say “Nothing to do with me, Your Honour” and show the court their policy, their position will be considerably stronger.

If you need clear and pragmatic legal advice, we’re here to help so please get in touch.

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