Bribery Act Sentencing a Real Deterrent?

Earlier this year, we brought you the news that the new Bribery Act came into force on July 1st. Now we are able to report on the sentencing of the first case brought to the courts under the new Act.

On 18 November 2011, Munir Patel, a clerk at a magistrates' court, received a 3 year prison sentence after pleading guilty to receiving a bribe of £500 in exchange for removing motoring offences from official records. He also received a concurrent 6 year sentence for misconduct in public office, since he had previously committed a number of similar offences that netted him in the region of £2,000. This was before he was filmed in a newspaper investigation pocketing the cash received from a motorist on 1 August 2010, after which he was prosecuted.

Will There be a Trend Towards Harsher Sentencing?

The sentence was something of a shock to the legal community since there have been earlier trials relating to bribery by international business people and overseas government officials where the sums of money involved have been significantly higher and the sentences much less severe. Speculation ranges from whether this was a response to calls for harsher punishment under the reformed legislation, to whether it was about a need to protect the English criminal justice system. Most arguments favour the former, and lead us to believe this sentence is meant to act as a deterrent to anyone considering any form of bribery.

The Onus on Business Chiefs?

A business owner or director now has a responsibility to prevent bribery offences being committed in the name of the business. It is not enough to be squeaky clean yourself. If a member of your staff takes or accepts a bribe in the course of their work, perhaps to be awarded a contract, or to select a specific supplier, you could be prosecuted.

So what steps can you take to prevent this happening? It is important to have a written anti-bribery policy and procedures which are communicated to everyone. The procedures should include logging reports of any incidents that might be construed as attempted bribery by outsiders, or internal disciplinary activities to prevent bribery.

Some members of staff may be ignorant or unclear about what constitutes bribery, so training sessions to get the message across and reinforce it could be a good idea, and should also be noted on your log. If the worst were to happen, and someone from your organisation was prosecuted, you would at least have documented proof of your own anti-bribery activities.

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