The UK Bribery Act 2010 introduced a new era of “long arm” legislation targeting the increasingly complex governance and trading operations of corporate groups and their business associates (wherever located).
The penalties for non-compliance with the Bribery Act are potentially significant, particularly for companies which rely on government contracts - a ban on public procurement work, plus the associated reputational impact as well as hefty fines and possible contractual damages.
The UK enforcement agency, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), has launched a number of high-profile and complex investigations into alleged criminal conduct, but has not to date secured many significant convictions under the flagship “failure to prevent” offence. The SFO has, by contrast, concluded several notable Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPAs) for bribery offences, working both independently and in collaboration with enforcement bodies in other jurisdictions. Alongside the Bribery Act, the introduction of DPAs (the UK equivalent of widely-used Non-Prosecution Agreements in the US), as an alternative to a full-blown criminal prosecution, was designed to overcome some of the legal, practical and resourcing obstacles faced by prosecutors when seeking to hold companies to account, while encouraging transparency and engagement on the part of the accused. Companies which self-report suspicious activity and co-operate fully and openly with prosecutors may be rewarded with a DPA and a reduced penalty, rather than a high-profile and costly court action, which carries the threat of a corporate conviction.
The UK’s response to the enforcement of its anti-bribery and corruption measures is part of a co-ordinated global initiative. Increased use of DPA-style settlements, greater international co-operation and a wider scope of corporate liability have all been consistent themes in global anti-corruption efforts in recent years.