New anti-corruption bill in Queen's speech could leave construction firms open to bribery charges

The new bribery bill announced in the Queen’s speech this week could leave construction firms open to bribery charges, according to expects.

The bill introduces a new corporate offence designed to offer a more assertive approach to combating corruption in the UK and abroad. It would replace the “old and fragmented legislation” on bribery, according to the government.

The new offence is expected to apply where an employee, agent or subsidiary pays a bribe on behalf of the corporate.

Particularly if the offence is introduced as one of strict liability, companies brought to book will have to demonstrate that they had "adequate procedures" in place to prevent bribery or face an unlimited fine.

However, Michael Roberts, senior associate in Lovell’s' bribery and corruption task force warned that the bill would not define what the “adequate procedures” were.

“It’s a hot topic for corporates getting ready to comply with the bill. What exactly is meant by ‘adequate procedures’?” he said. “There is some guidance from the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), but it’s still up for grabs what it will mean in any context.”

“We expect to see a lot of industry bodies putting forward their own best practice which the SFO has said it will take on board. And there will be case law where we start to see what regulators and prosecutors expect to be involved.

Roberts advised firms to make sure their policies met the limited guidance currently available and, equally importantly, to make sure that their policies and processes are actually being followed on the ground.