Bribery and corruption are incredibly damaging crimes with far-reaching consequences for society and the public’s trust in companies and institutions. If you are facing charges for bribery, getting help from an experienced solicitor is imperative. This article explains what bribery is, how it can be committed, and what the possible sentences are. It also discusses whether first-time offenders are likely to be sent to prison. Information on where to get more help is included at the end.
What are the offences of bribery and corruption in the UK?
The offences of bribery and corruption in the UK are governed by the Bribery Act 2010. The Act is wide-ranging and covers both public and private sector bribery, both domestically and internationally.
Bribery is defined as offering, promising or giving a financial or other advantage to another person with the intention of:
- inducing or rewarding improper performance of a function or activity; or
- influencing a person in their capacity as a public official to obtain or retain business or an advantage in the conduct of business.
Improper performance is defined as breaching an expectation of good faith, impartiality or trust. This could include, for example, awarding a contract to a company that has bribed you, or giving preferential treatment to a supplier that has bribed you.
Public official is defined very broadly and includes anyone who holds a public office or performs a public function. This could include, for example, government officials, judges, police officers, and employees of state-owned companies.
The penalties for bribery offences are severe. Individuals can be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison and/or an unlimited fine. Commercial organisations can be fined an unlimited amount.
Note that corruption is a broader term than bribery and encompasses a range of unethical or illegal activities that involve the abuse of power or position for personal gain. Examples of corruption include:
- nepotism (favouring relatives or friends in the awarding of jobs or contracts)
- cronyism (favouring friends or associates in the awarding of jobs or contracts)
- embezzlement (stealing money or property from an organisation)
- extortion (illegally demanding money or property from someone)
Corruption can have a serious impact on society, as it can lead to inefficiency, waste, and inequality. It can also undermine public trust in institutions and government.
What are some examples of bribery and corruption offences in the UK?
Here are some examples of bribery and corruption offences in the UK:
- A public official who accepts a bribe in exchange for awarding a contract to a particular company.
- A company that pays a bribe to a foreign public official in order to secure a business deal.
- A police officer who takes a bribe from a criminal to ignore their wrongdoing.
- A judge who gives a lighter sentence to a defendant in exchange for a bribe.
- A teacher who gives higher grades to students whose parents pay them bribes.
- A company that hires unqualified relatives or friends of senior executives in order to curry favour.
- A politician who uses their position to award government contracts to companies that donate to their political party.
- A business owner who threatens to withhold payments from a supplier unless they pay a bribe.
- A government official who embezzles public funds for their own personal gain.
- A charity employee who steals money from the charity to fund their own lifestyle.
What happens if you are suspected of committing bribery and corruption in the UK?
If you are suspected of committing bribery in the UK, you could face serious legal consequences. Generally speaking, these are the steps you can expect to face:
- Investigation: Law enforcement agencies, such as the police or the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), may initiate an investigation into the allegations of bribery and corruption. This could involve gathering evidence, conducting interviews, and seeking information from various sources.
- Arrest: If there is sufficient evidence, you may be arrested and questioned by the police. You have the right to remain silent and seek legal representation during questioning.
- Charges: If the investigation uncovers evidence that suggests you have committed bribery or corruption, you may be charged with a criminal offence.
- Proceedings: The case will proceed to legal proceedings, which can include court hearings and trials. You will have the opportunity to present your defence, and the prosecution will present evidence against you.
- Conviction: If you are found guilty in court, you could face various penalties, including fines, imprisonment, or both. The severity of the penalties will depend on the nature and extent of the bribery or corruption.
- Confiscation Orders: In some cases, the court may issue confiscation orders to recover the proceeds of bribery and corruption.
- Civil Liability: Apart from criminal charges, you may also face civil liability, including lawsuits from affected parties seeking damages.
- Corporate Liability: If you are part of a business entity, it could also face corporate liability for failing to prevent bribery or corruption under the Bribery Act 2010.
- Prevention and Reporting Obligations: The UK has a strong commitment to preventing bribery and corruption. This means that individuals and businesses are encouraged to have robust anti-bribery policies and report any suspicions of corruption or bribery. Failure to do so can lead to consequences, such as being held liable for failing to prevent bribery within a company.
For help in understanding your rights and options throughout the legal process, get in touch with a criminal defence solicitor today.
What is the sentence for an offence involving bribery and corruption?
The sentence for an offence involving bribery depends on the seriousness of the offence, which is determined by the culpability of the offender and the harm caused. The starting point for the sentence is 5 years’ custody, but the sentence can range from 26 weeks’ custody to 8 years’ custody, depending on the category of the offence.
Here is a summary of the sentencing guidelines for bribery offences in the UK:
- Category 1 offences: These are the most serious offences, such as bribery of a public official or bribery in the context of international business. The starting point for the sentence is 5 years’ custody, and the maximum sentence is 8 years’ custody.
- Category 2 offences: These are less serious offences, such as bribery of a private individual or bribery in the context of domestic business. The starting point for the sentence is 2 years’ custody, and the maximum sentence is 5 years’ custody.
- Category 3 offences: These are the least serious offences, such as bribery of a low-level employee or bribery in the context of a minor transaction. The starting point for the sentence is 26 weeks’ custody, and the maximum sentence is 2 years’ custody.
The court will take a number of factors into account when sentencing an offender for bribery, including:
- The nature and seriousness of the offence
- The culpability of the offender
- The harm caused
- The offender’s previous criminal record
- Any mitigating or aggravating factors
If you are charged with bribery, it is important to seek legal advice as soon as possible. A lawyer can help you to understand the charges against you and to represent you in court.
Will I go to prison if it is my first time committing an offence involving bribery and corruption?
The likelihood of a first time offender going to prison for bribery in the UK depends on a number of factors, including the seriousness of the offence, the culpability of the offender, and the harm caused.
The court will consider the following factors when sentencing a first time offender for bribery:
- The nature and seriousness of the offence: The court will consider the nature of the bribery offence, such as whether it involved a public official or a private individual, the amount of money or other advantage involved, and the impact of the offence on the victim(s).
- The culpability of the offender: The court will consider the offender’s role in the offence, their level of responsibility, and their intentions. For example, the court will consider whether the offender was the person who initiated the bribe or whether they were simply following orders.
- The harm caused: The court will consider the harm caused by the offence, both to the victim(s) and to society as a whole. For example, the court will consider whether the offence involved a breach of public trust or whether it led to financial loss.
According to the Sentencing Council, the average custodial sentence for a bribery offence in 2021 was 3 years. However, the range of sentences was very broad, with some offenders receiving sentences of less than 6 months and others receiving sentences of more than 7 years.
Where to get further help
Bribery is a very serious offence that has wide-reaching consequences for offenders and society more generally. If you are facing charges for bribery, getting in touch with an experienced criminal defence solicitor to better understand your options is imperative. For impartial and friendly advice about your case, contact Stuart Miller Solicitors today.
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