On 23 April 2013, Mr Yang Li, a Chinese student who had been studying at the University of Bath, pleaded guilty to bribery under section 1 of the Bribery Act 2010 (the “Act”).

Mr Li had been studying for an innovation and technology management masters degree at the University of Bath. Upon finding out his dissertation was awarded 37%, 3% short of a pass mark, Mr Li arranged a meeting with his tutor, Prof. Andrew Graves. During their meeting on 23 November 2012, Mr Li offered his tutor £5,000 to change the mark to a passing grade. Prof. Graves rejected Mr Li’s offer but as Mr Li took the money off the table, an imitation firearm (an air pistol) fell out of his pocket.

Mr Li pleaded guilty to bribery and possession of an imitation firearm. Mr Li was sentenced to twelve months imprisonment and ordered to pay £4,880 in costs. Judge Michael Longman said during sentencing: “You attempted to persuade a university professor to behave in such a way that if it had been successful you would have undermined the integrity of the universities in the UK and the legitimacy of degrees from universities here, the University of Bath in particular. Your bid to achieve a pass mark by offering what was a bribe to your professor was ill conceived to the point of being a spectacular mistake and one which was doomed to fail from the start.

Comment

This is the third prosecution of an individual under the Act since it came into force on 1 July 2011. Similarly to the last conviction under the Act, this was a case of someone seeking to obtain a qualification through bribery. There have been no corporate prosecutions under the Act to date and so corporates continue to await judicial interpretation of the more nuanced aspects of the section 7 corporate offence, including its territorial effect.

As a result, it also remains unclear how the courts will treat the Ministry of Justice’s Guidance to corporates on putting in place “adequate procedures”, although comments made by some members of the judiciary to the OECD suggest that the Guidance will be given no greater weight than a secondary text.