Hospitality not Bribery

The news that the Bribery Act is to be reviewed by the government has thrown new question marks into the mix for project managers who are busy preparing for the launch of the Act in April. The government’s intervention has raised questions as to what might happen to the Act – will it be delayed, will it receive further amendments, will it be reworded? Our understanding is that the guidance (currently being finalised at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and still scheduled to be out at the end of the month) will deal with most of the grey areas of concern and should give greater clarity to companies preparing their adequate procedures. We watch this space with interest.

One of the concerns regarding the Act that seems to be on the mind of many businesses is that hospitality will henceforth be a no-no in British business life. Neither the Bribery Act nor the draft guidance suggests this. The guideline that many businesses follow these days is that hospitality should be at reasonable levels and should not be seen by either party as putting an obligation on the receiver. There should be clear daylight between this and favours given in return for business decisions. Where levels of entertainment are more opulent and frequent for the same individual or company, then shareholders as well as prosecutors would be entitled to ask questions. Nothing which the MoJ or SFO have said should cause concern that a business will be prosecuted for taking someone to the British Open. Indeed, in an interview on the Bribery Act, Vivian Robinson, QC, General Counsel at the SFO, commented that there has been a widespread misconception in this area. He said the SFO has been at pains to assure corporates that the SFO would not regard sensible, proportionate promotional and entertaining expenditure as unlawful under the Act. Only if the hospitality were lavish and disproportionate would it be an issue.