During a recent address to the House of Commons, Ken Clarke, the Justice Secretary, accepted that companies are “frightened” by the UK Bribery Act.
The Act, which is due to come into force later this year, will be preceded by the publication of guidance on its implementation. However, commentators expect that this guidance will be of little practical use; given that the Ministry of Justice will want to avoid the risk of watering down the Act or introducing loopholes by the back door. Whilst Ken Clarke did seek to assure the Commons that the Act would not be watered down, he stated, perhaps for the first time, that the guidance would seek to specifically address some of the fears expressed by companies.
With London due to host the Olympics and Paralympics next year, one such fear relates to the provision of corporate hospitality and what might fall foul of the Act. Ken Clarke sought to emphasize that companies would be able to continue to offer corporate hospitality and that, “Ordinary hospitality to meet customers, network with customers [and] improve relationships is an ordinary part of business and should not be a criminal offence.”
He went on to state that he is, “…hoping to put out very clear guidance to businesses of all sizes to make that clear and save them from fears which have been aroused.” Whether this amounts to a triumph of hope over expectation remains to be seen.