On Monday 31 January, the Ministry of Justice confirmed reports that the implementation of the Bribery Act (the Act), due to take place in April, would be delayed. The delay follows protests and speculation from business leaders alleging that the provisions of the Act could dampen economic growth in the wake of recession, and jeopardise the UK economy further.
The Act will now be implemented at least 3 months after guidance on the Act has been published. This guidance, mandated under the Act, is meant to explain the procedures businesses can put into place as part of a defence to one of the Act's new offences, "failure to prevent bribery". This publication is not expected to be issued until May at the earliest, meaning that any implementation could be delayed until the end of the year. A spokesman from the Ministry of Justice said that additional details on the legislation would be published in due course, but that "we are working on the guidance to make it practical and comprehensive for business."
The CBI, which has protested against the Act, said that it welcomed attempts to modernise bribery legislation, but that reviews were necessary in provisions relating to hospitality and third-party services and that uncertainty over the scope of the Act would be detrimental to UK exporters at a critical time.
Transparency International's executive director, Chandrashekhar Krishnan, said that news of the delay was "disastrous" and that criticism of the scope of the Act was misplaced, saying "the [A]ct is a robust piece of legislation that will help to level the playing field for the vast majority of UK companies that want to conduct their business in an ethical manner".
Mark Peith, chairman of the OECD Working Group which is responsible for monitoring compliance with the Anti-Bribery Convention (to which the UK is a signatory), said that news of the delay was "very disappointing" and that any further delay could risk UK companies being sanctioned by the 37 other signatories to the Anti-Bribery Convention, with the further possibility of being placed on a global blacklist. This would require companies doing business with them to set aside a proportion of the contract value in case the company engaged in bribery. Such actions have previously been taken against companies in Russia, Israel and Nigeria. Peith also said that, contrary to the protests of businesses, the UK legislation was "firmly middle of the road" in severity.
If you wish to learn more about the Bribery Act, please click here to read the Guidance Note written by EAPD Partners, James Maton and Antonio Suarez-Martinez.