Given the recent news that an employee of the Royal Household is being sent to jail for taking bribes and several football managers have been accused of taking transfer bungs, it is perhaps time for a quick reminder of the anti-bribery laws. 

The Bribery Act 2010 sets out the offences as follows:

  • Bribing another person (i.e. active bribery);

  • Being bribed (i.e. passive bribery); and

  • Bribing a foreign public official.

These offences can be committed by either an individual or a corporate body. If a corporate body has committed the offence and a senior officer has consented to or connived in it, they too could be personally liable. 

Finally, there is a further offence where a commercial organisation fails to prevent bribery, so employers beware! You need to take steps to ensure bribery is not happening in your workplace. 

Although there is no express definition of what “bribery” is, a common sense approach should be adopted. It is clear from the Act that bribery occurs where an advantage is given in exchange for improper decision-making or action. For example, let's say the MD of a major wine supplier invites the CEO of a hotel to take a free holiday in his French villa at around the time the current supply contract is due to expire, with the aim of inducing the CEO to renew the contract without going through a formal tender process. There would be a number of potential offences:

  1. If the CEO accepted the holiday, both he and his hotel company are potentially committing the offence of being bribed since he is accepting the holiday with the intention that he will forgo the usual procurement process;

  2. The MD of the supplier and his company are committing the offence of bribing another as he is offering the CEO the holiday as an inducement for bypassing the usual tendering process; and

  3. The hotel that employs the CEO may have committed the offence of failing to prevent bribery, unless it can show that it had adequate procedures in place to prevent bribery. Also, any other senior officers of the hotel (such as the other directors and managers) who consent to or connive in the bribe may have personal liability. 

Of course, the Act does not prevent all corporate hospitality. What is key is whether the hospitality is being offered to induce improper performance - if it is, that is a bribe. Factors taken into consideration to determine this will include whether the hospitality is proportionate, reasonable, offered in good faith and in line with industry norms. So, the MD offering a couple of bottles of wine for a hotel director to sample or taking him out to dinner to forge better relations is unlikely to be an issue. 

If a person does fall foul of the bribery laws, tough criminal sanctions can apply. An individual can be sentenced for up to 10 years imprisonment as well as receive an unlimited fine. A body corporate can be punished with an unlimited fine. 

It is therefore worth ensuring that you and your employees are aware of and respect the anti-bribery laws. The first step is to undertake a risk assessment of the areas in your business where bribery is likely to occur so you can monitor these areas carefully. In addition, a robust anti-bribery policy and comprehensive training for your employees is a must to educate them all on what they can and cannot do. You should also appoint a senior employee as your Compliance Officer to ensure there is a watchful eye focused on stopping any potential bribery issues from arising.