Ruth Mitchell

Bribery bill warning for businesses

New laws covering bribery offences could unwittingly catch out North East businesses, a leading law firm has warned.

Experts at Newcastle-based Ward Hadaway say that the Bribery Bill currently going through Parliament may lead to more companies being prosecuted for activities previously considered lawful.

Businesses which export a lot of their goods and services could be particularly vulnerable to prosecution.

The firm says that all companies should review their systems to ensure they don’t fall foul of the new legislation.

Andrew Swan, solicitor in Ward Hadaway’s licensing and regulatory team, said: “The Bribery Bill is intended to modernise and simplify the existing law on bribery and make it easier for prosecutions to be brought for bribery-related offences.

“This should not pose any real problems for businesses – after all, no-one wants to lose out on a contract to a competitor who has bribed their way to the deal.

“However, the Bill as it stands proposes a new corporate bribery offence covering occasions where a business fails to prevent those working on its behalf from committing bribery.

“The company itself can be prosecuted, as well as individuals within the business such as senior directors who are held responsible for preventing bribery, and the penalties include the prospect of unlimited fines.”

The proposed new law will mean that even if a company was not aware of an employee offering bribes, it can still be prosecuted.

Andrew Swan explained: “A company has to demonstrate that it has adequate systems and safeguards in place to prevent bribery taking place.

“It also needs to show that all employees are aware of these policies and anyone who is going out to try and win contracts for the company is fully aware of what they can and can’t do.”

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