The SFO has today published new guidance on self-reporting, business expenditure and facilitation payments.  The new Director has made it all a lot simpler, and in effect the guidance is that the Bribery Act itself is what people should consider and not any government guidance. It is almost startling in its brevity, and rather refreshing, as a consequence!   We have blogged on the previous guidances for these subjects on several occasions including here, here and here.

The SFO’s press release and the new guidance is very short so, for ease of reference for the reader, we will quote from it all in full:

“The Serious Fraud Office has reviewed its policies on facilitation payments, business expenditure (hospitality) and corporate self-reporting.  The purpose is to:

  1. restate the SFO's primary role as an investigator and prosecutor of serious or complex fraud, including corruption;
  2. ensure there is consistency with other prosecuting bodies; and
  3. meet certain OECD recommendations.

The Director of the SFO, David Green CB QC, wishes to re-emphasise that all decisions to prosecute unlawful activity will be governed by the Full Code Test in the Code for Crown Prosecutors and the applicable joint SFO/CPS prosecution guidance.

Self reporting corruption

Whether or not the SFO will prosecute a corporate body in a given case will be governed by the Full Code Test in the Code for Crown Prosecutors, the joint prosecution Guidance on Corporate Prosecutions and, where relevant, the Joint Prosecution Guidance of the Director of the SFO and the Director of Public Prosecutions on the Bribery Act 2010.

If on the evidence there is a realistic prospect of conviction, the SFO will prosecute if it is in the public interest to do so. The fact that a corporate body has reported itself will be a relevant consideration to the extent set out in the Guidance on Corporate Prosecutions. That Guidance explains that, for a self-report to be taken into consideration as a public interest factor tending against prosecution, it must form part of a "genuinely proactive approach adopted by the corporate management team when the offending is brought to their notice". Self-reporting is no guarantee that a prosecution will not follow. Each case will turn on its own facts.

In appropriate cases the SFO may use its powers under proceeds of crime legislation as an alternative (or in addition) to prosecution; see the Attorney General's guidance to prosecuting bodies on their asset recovery powers under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. If the SFO uses its powers under proceeds of crime legislation, it will publish its reasons, the details of the illegal conduct and the details of the disposal.

In cases where the SFO does not prosecute a self-reporting corporate body, the SFO reserves the right (i) to prosecute it for any unreported violations of the law; and (ii) lawfully to provide information on the reported violation to other bodies (such as foreign police forces).

This statement of policy has immediate effect. It supersedes any statement of policy or practice on self-reporting previously made by or on behalf of the SFO.

Business expenditure

The Bribery Act 2010 came into force on 1 July 2011.

Bona fide hospitality or promotional or other legitimate business expenditure is recognised as an established and important part of doing business. It is also the case, however, that bribes are sometimes disguised as legitimate business expenditure.

Whether or not the SFO will prosecute in respect of a bribe presented as hospitality or some other business expenditure will be governed by the Full Code Test in the Code for Crown Prosecutors and the Joint Prosecution Guidance of the Director of the SFO and the Director of Public Prosecutions on the Bribery Act 2010. Where relevant, the Joint Guidance on Corporate Prosecutions will also be applied.

If on the evidence there is a realistic prospect of conviction, the SFO will prosecute if it is in the public interest to do so. In appropriate cases the SFO may use its powers under proceeds of crime legislation as an alternative (or in addition) to prosecution; see the Attorney General's guidance to prosecuting bodies on their asset recovery powers under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

This statement of policy has immediate effect. It supersedes any statement of policy or practice on business expenditure previously made by or on behalf of the SFO.

Facilitation payments

The Bribery Act 2010 came into force on 1 July 2011.

A facilitation payment is a type of bribe and should be seen as such. A common example is where a government official is given money or goods to perform (or speed up the performance of) an existing duty. Facilitation payments were illegal before the Bribery Act came into force and they are illegal under the Bribery Act, regardless of their size or frequency.

Whether or not the SFO will prosecute in respect of a facilitation payment (or payments) will be governed by the Full Code Test in the Code for Crown Prosecutors and the Joint Prosecution Guidance of the Director of the SFO and the Director of Public Prosecutions on the Bribery Act 2010. Where relevant, the Joint Guidance on Corporate Prosecutions will also be applied.

If on the evidence there is a realistic prospect of conviction, the SFO will prosecute if it is in the public interest to do so. In appropriate cases the SFO may use its powers under proceeds of crime legislation as an alternative (or in addition) to prosecution; see the Attorney General's guidance to prosecuting bodies on their asset recovery powers under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

This statement of policy has immediate effect. It supersedes any statement of policy or practice on facilitation payments previously made by or on behalf of the SFO.”

Clearly the new Director believes that there was previously too much guidance and that the combination of the Bribery Act (and other relevant criminal justice statutes)  together with the Code for Crown Prosecutors, the Joint Prosecution Guidance and the Joint Guidance on Corporate Prosecutions was more than enough, and to have additional detailed guidance would only serve to confuse businesses, defendants and their advisers.

Also, the guidance reinforces a widely held belief by the legal profession that Mr. Green is likely to prove to be a much tougher prosecutor than his predecessor Richard Alderman, who had (perhaps a little unfairly) acquired a reputation for seeking civil settlements with corporate defendants rather than prosecuting them through to trial.

In relation to self-reporting,  some corporates may feel that the SFO's latest pronouncement is hardly likely to encourage potential defendants to come forward and self-report, with the risk that the SFO may refuse to agree to a civil settlement, and prosecute the corporation anyway.