After a lengthy delay, the Government’s guidance to business on the new Act was finally published on 30 March 2011 and it was announced that the Bribery Act will come into force on 1 July 2011.
On publishing the guidance, Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke was at pains to stress that ‘combating the risks of bribery is largely about common sense, not burdensome procedures’. While that may sound good as a political soundbite, it is not reflected in the guidance itself, which clearly envisages that where there is a risk of bribery businesses should adopt appropriate procedures. How burdensome those may turn out to be will probably vary, depending upon the type of business being conducted, where and how that business operates and the level of risk that a bribery offence might be committed.
In the run up to publication of the guidance, the principal areas of concern for business were that the Act did not provide any form of exemption for corporate hospitality or for facilitation payments. While the guidance states that Government does not intend normal corporate hospitality to constitute a bribery offence, the fact remains that each situation will be judged on its own facts if it comes to Court. The Government could see the law of unintended consequences applying here. The lack of any safe harbour for facilitation payments will be of concern to businesses and the guidance here will need careful study.
The new Act will undoubtedly have an impact on businesses of all sizes and the first challenge for owners and managers is to understand the new regime and formulate policy to address the new risks.