Corporate hospitality is OK, says new Bribery Act guidance

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The Bribery Act will not lead to a large number of prosecutions and will not outlaw corporate hospitality, the Government has said in long-awaited guidance on last year's Bribery Act.

The guidance also makes it clear that small companies could communicate their anti-bribery policies orally and still meet the requirements of the new law.

"Cases will be brought where they are in the public interest, which will require the personal agreement of the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Director of the Serious Fraud Office," said Justice Secretary Ken Clarke. "I do not expect a large number of prosecutions and certainly not for trivial cases."

The Act should not be used to stop companies from entertaining customers and contacts, the new rules said.

"Bona fide hospitality and promotional, or other business expenditure which seeks to improve the image of a commercial organisation, better to present products and services, or establish cordial relations, is recognised as an established and important part of doing business and it is not the intention of the Act to criminalise such behaviour," said the guidance.

"The guidance makes clear that no one is going to try to stop businesses getting to know their clients by taking them to events like Wimbledon, Twickenham or the Grand Prix," said Clarke. "Reasonable hospitality to meet, network and improve relationships with customers is a normal part of business."

The Act clarified what was seen as an old and confusing set of bribery laws, but businesses worried that it would make corporate hospitality illegal and placed too big a burden on companies for the behaviour of rogue staff.

The Act said that companies would be responsible for all corruption undertaken by staff unless they could show that they had put adequate procedures in place to prevent it. Business pressure resulted in the last Government agreeing that governments should produce guidance on how the Act would work.

The guidance produced by that Government was criticised by the Law Society for being too vague and the current Government delayed the implementation of the Act in order to write this new guidance. The Act will now come into force on 1 July, the Ministry of Justice said.

The guidance clarifies what is meant by adequate procedures, and said that this would be considered in the light of the size and kind of company involved.

"Small organisations are unlikely to need procedures that are as extensive as those of a large multi-national organisation," said the guidance. "A very small business may be able to rely heavily on periodic oral briefings to communicate its policies while a large one may need to rely on extensive written communication."

"Modest risks require modest procedures to mitigate them," said Clarke. "Small companies ought not fear that they will suddenly need an army of lawyers in order to manage bribery risks."

Bribery law expert Barry Vitou of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM, said that the new guidance would put businesses more at ease with the new law.

"The new guidance is good news for business," he said. "We are pleased to see that the Government is emphasising that business should take a proportionate approach when implementing adequate procedures to prevent bribery, and the assurances in relation to corporate hospitality not being banned under the Act are welcome."

The guidance was welcomed by trade body the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). "[We] welcome this much-improved final guidance," said CBI chief policy director Katja Hall."“The Government has listened to concerns that honest companies could have been unwittingly caught out by poorly-drafted legislation and has clarified a number of important areas. These include the extent of liability through the supply chain, joint ventures, due diligence and corporate hospitality."

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) have created their own guidelines outlining how they will prosuecute cases. The default position is to prosecute, though the bodies will take into account the public interest and likelihood of success in a prosecution, according to thebriberyact.com, a site operated by Vitou.

See:

* The guidance (45-page / 390KB PDF)

* The SFO and DPP's guidance summarised by Barry Vitou at thebriberyact.com

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