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The Bribery Act came into force on 1st July 2011. Described as the toughest anti-corruption legislation in the world, it has had a significant impact on how businesses of all shapes and sizes in Northern Ireland conduct their affairs. You may be familiar with the case of local business man James McKeown who was found guilty of bribing two Ministry of Defence officials in order to secure CCTV contracts. All three defendants received suspended prison sentences along with confiscation orders. 

Four categories of offence were created by the Act;

1. Offering, promising or giving a bribe;

2. Receiving or accepting a bribe;

3. Bribing a foreign public official;

4. Failure by a corporate body to prevent bribery.

A corporate body may be found guilty of the latter offence if it fails to prevent an associated person (an employee, contractor, agent, advisor etc.) from bribing a third party in order to procure some benefit for the corporate body.  Small and medium local businesses are by no means exempt from the remit of the Act by virtue of their size.

A Defence to the Corporate Offence
A corporate body may successfully defend a charge of failure to prevent bribery if it can show that it had in place sufficient procedures to prevent such an act taking place.  Commercial businesses in Northern Ireland should:

  • Regularly review their anti-bribery policy;
  • Ensure their staff are fully trained and aware of their reporting obligations;
  • Include anti-bribery clauses in their standard commercial contracts;
  • Carry out the appropriate checks in advance of entering into agreements with third parties;
  • Consider how they will deal with an allegation of bribery either within the company or in the public arena.

Extra-territorial Jurisdiction
An interesting element of this legislation is that it applies to bribes given not just in the UK but overseas as well. It can apply to people working overseas for UK companies, UK companies which fail to prevent bribery overseas and foreign companies which fail to prevent bribery within the UK.

NB: It is acknowledged that there is an inherent public interest in the prosecution of bribery and if there is sufficient evidence against an individual or company the Public Prosecution Service will proceed.

Penalties
An individual in Northern Ireland found guilty of any of the first 3 categories of offence is liable to:

Up to 6 months imprisonment and/or a maximum £5000 fine if tried in the Magistrate’s Court
or
Up to 10 years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine if tried at the Crown Court.

A corporate body in Northern Ireland found guilty of any of the first 3 categories of offence is liable to:

A maximum £5000 fine if tried in the Magistrate’s Court
or
An unlimited fine if tried at the Crown Court.
A corporate body found guilty of the fourth category of offence following a Crown Court trial may be subject to an unlimited fine.

Edwards & Co is here to help when a difficulty arises, but more importantly to help prevent potential liability by advising you on the implementation of appropriate anti-bribery measures and safeguards for your business.

For further advice and information please contact Claire Wilson or Julie Leonard.

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