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Anti-corruption enforcement: The UK’s journey from basket-case to the Bribery Act


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Jeremy Scott-Joynt authored the first chapter of Lissack and Horlick on Bribery and Corruption. Jeremy has summarised his chapter on the UK’s history of anti-corruption enforcement as part of a serialisation of the chapters that members of Outer Temple contributed to the publication.

Corruption is universal. Human beings striving for advantage have always sought it by suborning the servants of their rivals.

No group or nation is immune, and the UK is no exception. Its history is replete with examples, from rotten boroughs and army commissions bought and sold to Rachmanism and parliamentary sleaze. In typical English fashion, though, the enforcement framework confronting what has, at times, been endemic bribery and corruption had until 2010 developed piecemeal, through a tattered patchwork of overlapping statutes and contradictory case law.

In its first chapter, Lissack and Horlick on Bribery and Corruption traces how this changed: how an antediluvian system widely criticised as ineffectual evolved into the 2010 Bribery Act, which on its passing into law was seen as the toughest anti-bribery statute in the world. The story embraces public and legislative embarrassment as waves of corruption enveloped both public life and private business through the 19th and early 20th century; the statutory responses to this shame designed to tackle specific problems, with a focus on the perversion by corruption of the principal-agent relationship; the multiple public enquiries and Law Commission reports which continued through the 20th century and the early 21st to respond to continuing scandals; and, in the wake of the outcry arising from the Serious Fraud Office’s decision (under heavy Government pressure) to drop its investigations into alleged corruption in arms deals with Saudi Arabia, the drafting and passing of the Bribery Act.

It also examines the effect of international developments on the UK’s willingness and ability to confront corruption. In particular, it highlights the disdain with which bodies such as the OECD viewed much of the UK’s anti-corruption defences, as successive reports and reviews highlighted both gaps in their application and (in comparison to other jurisdictions) a woeful lack of actual enforcement.

There is no doubt that the Bribery Act – whose implications and enforcement this book explores with a combination of both analysis and practical advice arising from first-hand experience of the most significant UK bribery trials and investigations of the 21st century – changed the rules of the game for bribery enforcement not only in the UK but across the globe. The “failure to prevent” offence in its section 7 is now being widely copied, and global corporates operating in the UK have over the past decade taken it as their benchmark for worldwide anti-bribery systems and controls.

Given its broad and deep impact, understanding the Act’s genesis is not an optional extra. It provides practitioners with important insight into how bribery enforcement changes over time – and how past experience continues to influence the UK’s prosecution of bribery offences.

Read the Chapter

Jeremy’s chapter is available for Lexis Nexis subscribers here.

About the Author

Jeremy Scott-Joynt‘s practice has a focus on business crime and regulation, coming to the bar after a successful career in banking and regulation. Prior to the bar, Jeremy held Senior Anti-Bribery and Corruption Advisor positions in two international banks, as well as working at the FSA as an intelligence and investigations specialist. Recently, Jeremy’s practice has involved assisting clients in their dealings with the Financial Conduct Authority (to which he has been seconded), the Serious Fraud Office, the Gambling Commission, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive.

Find Out More

If you would like to discuss any of the issues covered in this article please contact Jeremy directly or via his practice management team; David Smith on (+44 (0)20 7427 4905) or Colin Bunyan on +44 (0)20 7427 4886.


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