The whole point of the act is to clarify and extend UK criminal law in reply to international pressure
In particular, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said the UK’s failure to update its anti-corruption laws could increase the need for due diligence over UK companies by their commercial partners and banks.
The UK has heeded the threat and this act is the result. Now businesses have until the end of this year to become familiar with it. Around then the controversial offence of failing to prevent bribery by an associate is expected to come into force.
So what is the impact on businesses? Well, the act comes at a cost. Whether firms operate purely in the UK or internationally, they will have to train operational staff and review their practices from top to bottom. Many businesses will also have to review the benefit of operating in countries where corruption is systemic and their competitors are less constrained by anti-bribery laws.
Certainly nobody will want to be found guilty under the act, with the threat of significant fines and/or imprisonment. There is also the damage to their reputations and the prospect of permanent debarment from tendering for EU public contracts. And who should be most worried about all this? The Serious Fraud Office has already stated its priority is corruption in the construction industry …
Rupert Choat is a partner and solicitor advocate at CMS Cameron McKenna