Individuals who make illegal payments to win business in the UK or overseas could be jailed for a decade under the bribery bill announced in the Queen’s speech today.
The legislation is meant to strengthen the law against corruption. It covers the practice of offering, promising or giving a bribe, or accepting, soliciting or agreeing to receive an illicit payment.
The bill will create a specific criminal offence of bribing a foreign public official to obtain or retain business. Companies could also be prosecuted for failing to prevent an employee paying a bribe, if they cannot prove that they have adequate procedures in place to prevent such illegal payments.
It will also raise the maximum jail term for bribery from seven years to 10 years. A company convicted of “negligently failing to prevent bribery” would face an unlimited fine.
A draft version of the bill was drawn up earlier this year and presented to parliament in March. In it, the government said that, while bribery has been illegal for centuries, there is now a “patchwork” of offences under several different laws which needs to consolidated under a single bill.
Britain has been repeatedly criticised for not bringing the law on bribery into line with international standards. In 2008 an OECD working party demanded urged new legislation to be introduced rapidly.
In 1998 the Law Commission recommended general reform of the bribery laws, but a draft bill in 2003 failed to win broad support in pre-legislative scrutiny.