A warning was sent out today as the first person to be convicted under the Bribery Act was jailed for a total of six years.

Munir Yakub Patel, a court clerk, who accepted £500 for fixing a motoring offence was today sentenced to serve three years in prison for bribery offences and six years for misconduct in a public office, with the sentences to run concurrently.  Patel was arrested after The Sun newspaper filmed him arranging the bribe to prevent a traffic penalty for speeding being entered on a legal database.

According to Reuters, during his trial Southwark Crown Court heard that Patel assisted at least 53 individuals to evade prosecution for driving offences, and that he had advised people on how to avoid being summoned to court.  Further, the court heard that £53,814 in cash was deposited in his bank account while another £42,383 was transferred into the same account, both without explanation.

While some commentators have been surprised by the severity of the sentence, Patel’s own role within the criminal justice system undoubtedly influenced Judge Alistair McCreath, who emphasised that:

“A justice system in which officials are prepared to take bribes in order to allow offenders to escape the proper consequences of their offending is inherently corrupt and is one which deserves no public respect and which will attract none.”

It must now be only a matter of time before the Serious Fraud Office (“SFO”) seeks to make its own statement to the business world. 

Given the relatively small sums of money involved in the Patel case, it is likely that, when prosecuting high value international corruption cases, the SFO and the court will seek to impose substantial fines on companies who are found to be in breach of the new corporate offence of failing to prevent bribery (section 7 of the Bribery Act).  This is supported by the recent decisions of the Court of Appeal under the old, pre-Bribery Act law (Innospec, McDougall and BAE Systems). 

Further, where a director, or other senior officer, of a company who is held liable for a bribery offence is found to have “consented or connived” in that offence (section 14 of the Bribery Act), the Patel case indicates that the court will be far from lenient and that, on the contrary, a lengthy prison sentence will be the most likely result.