Implementation of the UK Bribery Act has been pushed back at least one month from its previous effective date of April 2011, as UK businesses maintain pressure on government officials to clarify its provisions and soften its impact on their overseas activities. The announcement, made by Justice Secretary Ken Clarke earlier this week, comes just two weeks after UK officials decided to assess the Bribery Act as part of a government Growth Review designed to improve conditions for private sector growth. According to press reports, the delay is attributable to the Bribery Act’s inclusion in that review—a measure taken by UK officials to address strong concerns from businesses over the impact of the new law—and failure to publish guidance on how the law will be implemented.
Clarke promised that the Bribery Act would not be implemented until at least three months after publication of that guidance, which is mandated by the Bribery Act and was expected to be in place by January 2011. In a statement made earlier this week, a Ministry of Justice official explained that, “We are working on the guidance to make it practical and comprehensive for business. We will come forward with further details in due course. The most important thing is to get it right.” No date has been set for publication.
At the same time as the implementation delay was announced, the recent announcement of budget estimates for the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) cast serious doubt upon whether UK law enforcement will have the resources to give the law teeth. The SFO will be the principle enforcer of the Bribery Act, but in response to a question in the House of Lords, Minister of Justice Lord McNally stated that the SFO can expect to receive just an additional £2 million ($3.24 million) per year to investigate and prosecute the new offense of failure by a commercial organization to prevent bribery. It is reported that this could translate to less than two investigations or prosecutions a year. The SFO is already facing extensive budget cuts, from £34 million ($55 million) in 2011 to £29 million ($47 million) in 2014.