The UK could soon have a new bribery law – and about time too. The UK government’s draft bribery bill, published on 25 March, promises to clear up the current mess in the country's anti-corruption efforts.

Some of the UK's corruption laws are over a century old and are no longer fit for purpose.

As a result companies that would have been caught in the regulatory net in the US or Europe have escaped prosecution in the UK. A lack of resources for bribery law enforcers has not helped either.

The draft bribery bill aims to change this with new offences to make it easier to prosecute individuals for paying and taking bribes, and for bribing foreign public officials.

The bill should raise the ethics and compliance bar for companies. But will it be set high enough?

Contacted by Ethical Corporation for comment, Shadow Solicitor General Jonathan Djanogly responded to the draft bill:

"I am very happy to see this has been published at last" he said, but went on to point out that "...there is no given timetable for taking this forward". Djanogly concluded that the Conservatives "remain concerned at how deficient our existing law is."

Corporate offence

On the plus side, the draft bill contains a new corporate offence for bribery. This would make it easier to prosecute companies, not just individuals, for corruption.

A company would be liable under the draft bill for “negligently failing to prevent bribery” if staff were found to have paid a bribe and the company could not show that it had the right procedures in place to stop this.

So far, so good. But what about the punishment for companies that are found guilty of failing to prevent bribery?

The draft bill proposes a fine, albeit unlimited. It does not suggest banning companies found guilty of corruption from bidding for public contracts – a punishment that has worked well in the US, for example.

BAE lessons

Take BAE Systems, whose recent travails have sparked many of the UK’s recent steps to tackle corruption, especially overseas.

If the arms maker faced a ban on supplying the UK government if it were found guilty of letting staff pay bribes, it would surely take bribery risks more seriously.

The same would apply to many other companies.

Although it could be tougher, the draft bribery bill is still welcome news for the UK. It offers the a vast improvement on current laws.

It is only to be hoped that the draft bill becomes law before political parties break to start campaigning for the next election.

Because the UK cannot afford to lag behind the rest of the world any longer on stopping corruption.

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