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The UK is known for taking corruption seriously. They have one of the lowest rates of it in the world and penalties can be harsh.

What is the sentence for bribery and corruption offences in 2024?

No matter what level bribery and corruption are practised, there can be calamitous results for any individual or organisation, including both their reputation and their output. It’s so damaging that businesses find it preferable to lose business or forego money rather than become involved in it.

Although making a small payment may appear to be preferable to losing a project, having it run behind schedule or gain access to work that otherwise may not be available, using illegitimate payments (even those that may appear to be considered as ‘hospitality’) are taken very seriously by the law courts.

If you or your business have been identified as being involved in bribery or corruption, you are likely to be feeling very uncomfortable about what the outcome might be.

To help you to understand what penalty you may receive as a result of being convicted of bribery or corruption offences, we’ve detailed the sentencing guidelines below.  Please note that a competent and experienced solicitor may be able to get any prison sentence reduced or even avoid it entirely.

Read more information about the offence of Bribery & corruption

More about bribery and corruption offences

In the UK, there is a law known as the UK Bribery Act. The result is that every business and individual needs to comply with this act; otherwise, a prosecution could take place.

Bribery is the act of giving or receiving a reward that is unearned to either influence or persuades somebody to behave in a certain way. It’s sometimes known as a ‘kickback’ when it’s given after favourable treatment has been received. Both of these practices are considered to be corrupt.

Corruption is when bribery, abuse of power, fraud, extortion, collusion, embezzlement, money laundering or deception are used to gain an advantage.

Facilitation payments are the payment of money to officials used to encourage actions to be taken faster or ‘facilitated’. Whatever this is known as, for example, ‘grease’ or ‘speed’ payments, they are a version of bribes.

If you’re facing allegations of bribery and corruption, it’s vital that you engage a lawyer as quickly as possible. Both individuals and businesses can have their reputation spoilt by accusations of corruption. It’s critical to take on defence lawyers with the experience and expertise to defend you.

Taking early action can make all the difference with regards to the outcome of your case. A sharp lawyer with experience in this field of law may even be able to get your case dismissed before it progresses to the court stage.

What type of actions are considered Bribery or Corruption?

Here are some examples of the type of actions that are considered to be bribery and corruption offences.

When it comes to this offence, both the payer and recipient of the bribe can be penalised.  This offence is taken so seriously, that even if it took place outside to the UK, you might well be prosecuted for it. The interesting point about the Bribery Act is that the bribe does not even have to have been accepted for there to be penalty and punishment.

The three main offences involved in this crime are:

  • Offering to give, promising to give or even actually giving a bribe to another person;
  • Asking for, or agreeing to accept a bribe from another person
  • Giving a bribe to influence a foreign public official.

To illustrate or show a more precise meaning, here are more details about examples of the offence:

Bribery of foreign public officials – when a payment is made to a foreign public official with the intention of either gaining or retaining the business of the official.

Failure of organisations to prevent bribery – If a person commits the offence has close ties to a commercial organisation and the offence is related to the organisation, then the organisation may well take the blame. They will need to prove that they put the right procedures in place to prevent such an act.

Prosecution against Senior Officers of a company – in addition to prosecuting individuals and organisations for bribing, it’s possible that senior officers of a company can be prosecuted if an agreement to the bribe was present.

Of course, this crime is challenging to the business community with regards to facilitation payments and corporate hospitality. However, by using the right regulation lawyer, it’s possible to put a robust anti-bribery policy into your business for the ultimate protection.

Corporate Hospitality – how corporate hospitality is applied needs to be considered with regards to the legal implications.

Facilitation Payments –  these payments are typically small and made to speed up the performance of duties for unloading of cargo and the issuance of permits, etc.

In situations where facilitation payments are demanded, it can put organisations into difficult circumstances. However, these payments are classified as being bribes, and if they are made, there is a risk of prosecution. It’s recommended that you contact a lawyer if you’ve been asked to make a payment in the past, or in the present, for advice on individual cases.

The lead agency for investigating any national or overseas bribery and corruption is the Serious Fraud Office (SFO). Their investigations are known to be in-depth and lengthy. If they feel there is a chance of getting a conviction, they will prosecute, especially if it is an act that is in the best interest of the public to do so.

What is the average sentence for bribery corruption offences?

The sentence that you are given will depend upon what you are charged with. However, the maximum penalty for bribery and corruption is ten years. Organisations may also be asked to pay an unlimited fee as a penalty.

How does a court decide on the seriousness of the bribery corruption offence for sentencing purposes?

When sentencing for bribery corruption offences, your case will be investigated thoroughly by the police and other regulatory agents.

It will be looked at for whether you have taken part in a group activity or to see if you were forced into it. If you’ve used a false identity, or you have used the identity of others to access more funds, this will be considered to decide your sentence.

Certain aspects of a case are known as the mitigating aspects which can influence the sentence that a judge gives. One of the factors judges consider in every case of this nature is the defendant’s degree of genuine remorse.

The following are some of the other factors considered when the court decides which sentence to give. They will look at:

  • Any previous conviction
  • Your level of remorse
  • Your level of cooperation with the investigation
  • Whether the activity you took part in was originally legitimate
  • Your reputation / good character
  • Whether you have any serious medical conditions that require long term, urgent or intensive treatment
  • Whether you have a learning disability or a mental disorder
  • Whether you are the sole or primary carer for related dependents

The following is an extract taken from the Sentencing Guidelines, which is what judges refer to when deciding on sentencing.

The level of culpability is determined by weighing up all the factors of the case to determine the offender’s role and the extent to which the offending was planned and the sophistication with which it was carried out.

Culpability demonstrated by one or more of the following

A – High culpability

  • A leading role where offending is part of a group activity
  • Involvement of others through pressure, influence
  • Abuse of position of significant power or trust or responsibility
  • Intended corruption (directly or indirectly) of a senior official performing a public function
  • Intended corruption (directly or indirectly) of a law enforcement officer
  • Sophisticated nature of offence/significant planning
  • Offending conducted over sustained period of time
  • Motivated by expectation of substantial financial, commercial or political gain

B – Medium culpability

  • A significant role where offending is part of a group activity
  • Other cases that fall between categories A or C because:
    • Factors are present in A and C which balance each other out and/or
    • The offender’s culpability falls between the factors as described in A and C

C – Lesser culpability

  • Involved through coercion, intimidation or exploitation
  • Not motivated by personal gain
  • Peripheral role in organised activity
  • Opportunistic ‘one-off’ offence; very little or no planning
  • Limited awareness or understanding of extent of corrupt activity

Where there are characteristics present which fall under different levels of culpability, the court should balance these characteristics to reach a fair assessment of the offender’s culpability.

What are some of the mitigating factors that might reduce the bribery corruption offence sentence?

When sentencing for bribery and corruption, your case will be examined for what your role was, whether you are deemed responsible for ensuring that bribery and corruption do not take place for your organization and what the outcome was.

Is it possible to reduce a sentence for bribery and corruption with a guilty plea?

In recent years, a number of changes have been made to the sentencing system in the UK to save the court time and cost and to protect witnesses from the stress of needlessly going through a trial. For offenders aged 18 and over, pleading guilty early on in a case can reduce a sentence by as much as one third (maximum). The later the plea is entered, the smaller the reduction.

‘Early on’ refers to ‘the first stage of the proceedings’ and means anytime up to and including the first hearing at the Magistrates Court or Crown Court for indictable offences.

If a plea is entered 14 days after the first hearing, for example, the maximum level of reduction is just 20% or one fifth of the sentence. For indictable offences, the limit for a guilty plea to be made is within 28 days after the prosecutor has stated compliance with section 3 of CPIA 1996 and serving disclosure; although the decision is ultimately in the hands of the Judge who has discretion to apply whatever credit is deemed appropriate.

After these times there is a sliding scale of credit applied. This goes down to one tenth on the first day of the trial and to zero if entered during the course of the trial. In theory, the ten percent could be given if the plea is issued after the opening speeches on the first day, but prior to any witness evidence being heard.

If the accused does not want to plead guilty, then it’s important for the solicitor to regularly inform the court throughout the trial of the reasons why the client’s plea is not guilty.

What are some of the other consequences of bribery corruption offence?  

Ancillary Orders

A court can also make ancillary orders on a defendant if they are found guilty and convicted of a bribery corruption offence. These are extra elements of punishment that can be added to a sentence and include additional restrictions or requirements that can affect a dependent’s finances, your property or business or financial activity.

Ancillary orders that are typically added to the penalty for those who are found to be guilty of bribery corruption offences include:

  • Compensation for loss
  • Restraint orders
  • Reparation orders
  • Financial reporting order
  • Disqualification from directing a company
  • Confiscation orders

As part of your investigation, you may also have your assets frozen with the possibility of having cash or other assets seized.

In addition, the court may demand payment of the following if the accused is convicted:

Payment of costs applied for by the prosecutors

Although the police meet some of the costs involved in the prosecution, the costs of investigation are typically sought from the convicted. These may include the costs of:

  • The work done in obtaining sufficient evidence for prosecution either at the initial stage or later at the request of Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)
  • Seeking medical or expert evidence as part of the investigation, (where a witness is required to attend Court, the cost of the attendance falls on the CPS).
  • Re-interviewing witnesses
  • The entire costs of the prosecutor, including fees for the use of external Barristers used by the CPS, can be recovered from the defendant, subject to means. At the end of the case, the prosecutor under The Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 will request the Judge to order a sum to be paid for the costs incurred by the prosecutor in bringing the prosecution.

Victims surcharges

The term victims’ surcharges can be explained as paying compensation to a fund for victims and can range between £20 to £170 depending on what sentence you were given at conviction.

Rehabilitation Period
(the time it takes for the sentence to become ‘spent’)
Sentence Adult (aged 18+) at time of conviction Young person (aged under 18) at time of conviction
Prison sentences of more than 4 years Sentence is never spent Sentence is never spent
Prison sentences of more than 2.5 years (30 months) but less than 4 years Sentence length 7 years Sentence length 3.5 years
Prison sentences of more than 6 months but less than 2.5 years (30 months) Sentence length +4 years Sentence length +2 years
Prison sentences of less than 6 months Sentence length + 2 years Sentence length +18 months
Conditional Discharge Length of order Length of order
Absolute Discharge None None
Conditional Caution 3 months 3 months
Simple Caution / Youth Caution None – immediately ‘spent’ None – immediately ‘spent’
Other Including Compensation Order, Supervision Order, Bind Over, Hospital Order Length of the order / once compensation is paid Length of the order / once compensation is paid

CAN sentences be added to national information databases?

There are several national databases that hold information about individuals and any allegations made about them, their criminal and court records. These include the DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) which was previously known as the CRB (Criminal Record Bureau) and the Police National Computer (PNC).  Depending on what happened, whether the accused is convicted and what sentence was issued, the accused may be added to one or all these databases. Their purpose is to provide information to potential employers and to regulate the ability to take part in certain activities.

If your case progresses to court and you are convicted of bribery corruption offence, your conviction will be noted on your CRB / police record. The period of the endorsement will depend on the nature and length of your sentence.

Below are details on how long you will be listed as holding a criminal record if convicted. This is something very serious to consider when it comes to future employment. The term ‘spent’ refers to when your name can be removed from the databases.

How Can Stuart Miller Solicitors Help?

Stuart Miller Solicitors’ expert Fraud Lawyers are knowledgeable and experienced with handling Bribery and Corruption allegations. Our most recent instruction involved a multi-million-pound public transport irregularity.

We have collaborations with leading Barristers and QC’s who will engage with us to prepare your defence from the outset. Whether the allegations you face are in the UK or with an international element, we have the expertise and strategic intelligence to give you the best chances of success.

In 2010, there was major development in UK law with the introduction of the Bribery Act 2010. The Crown Prosecution Service and the Ministry of Justice were quick to offer their support to the legislation and profess their vigour to pursue those involved in corruption globally.

Have you been charged or arrested for Bribery or Corruption? 

If you or somebody close to you has been charged or arrested in connection to bribery and corruption, or you are under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) it is essential to engage an experienced solicitor as quickly as possible.

You’re likely to be feeling anxious, stressed and worried about what might happen.

In some cases, there may even have been a confusion with regards to what happened and who is involved. It’s possible that you weren’t involved in the situation and should not have been suspected of playing a role.

What can our Bribery & Corruption Lawyers do for you?

Our expert Bribery & Corruption Solicitors can assist you with challenging and minimising the impact of Restraint Orders that may be imposed on you, your family members and crucially your business. We have a culture of scrutinising and fighting the application of onerous bail conditions and challenging the admissibility of evidence often obtained using covert surveillance.

We are familiar with making applications for international assistance to assist your defence and our Fraud Lawyers are always prepared to travel to any destination to find, preserve and secure vital evidence to win your case.

We will consider the media’s hunger to report such cases and to broadcast inaccurate and misleading information. Our Fraud Solicitors are trained in evaluating the impact of such reports and taking immediate action to limit the damage they cause. We will monitor the release of information and track the source in order to explore favourable applications such as the impossibility of a fair trial owing to likely prejudice caused by the media.

At Stuart Miller Solicitors we foster a culture of success. You will find our Lawyers to be talented, energetic and highly motivated to achieve the best result both for you and the reputation of the firm. We have formed relationships with forensic experts of all fields who can be called upon to provide support for your defence. We have access to substantial resources in the UK and abroad to ensure that all witnesses are traced and all necessary evidence is preserved for your defence. We always endeavour to secure defence material at the beginning and avoid or halt a prosecution altogether.

Would you like to discuss your case before instructing us?

If you’d like to have a no-obligation chat with us before you instruct us to take your case, then call us today.

In addition to giving you a free consultation, we can also represent you at the police station if you’ve been arrested. We can look at securing your legal aid.

Please Contact Us and ask to speak to our bribery corruption lawyers and commercial corporate solicitors to arrange a meeting in person, online or by telephone. If you prefer, you can WhatsApp us from the link you will find at the bottom banner if you open this page on your mobile phone device.

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