The U.K. Ministry of Justice announced Wednesday it will postpone implementation of its Bribery Act until April 2011, a full year after it received royal assent.
The law, which bans both public and private bribery by any company or individual with a U.K. interest and includes a corporate criminal offense, was waiting on guidance from the Serious Fraud Office and other regulators concerning an "adequate procedures" definition that would give corporations the opportunity to defend themselves amid a bribery accusation. That guidance was originally expected to be handed down this month, with the law going into effect three months later.
Yasser Mehmood, a press officer for the Justice Ministry, wrote in an email that businesses expressed concern about being able to comply with the law, so the U.K.government will start a consultation exercise on the guidance that will receive final publication at the beginning of 2011, with full implementation to come a few months later.
"It's taken longer then expected to consider all the issues and how best to take them forward," Mehmood wrote. "Part of that time has been spent on planning a series of awareness-raising events after the consultation to ensure everyone is aware of the changes the Bribery Act makes to the current law."
Anticorruption groups expressed dismay at the announcement. "There is absolutely no reason that effective guidance could not have been published in time for the Act to commence in 2010," said Chandrashekhar Krishnan, executive director of the U.K. chapter of Berlin-based research group Transparency International, in a statement. "The danger is that under the guise of consultation, attempts may be made by those who want to pursue 'business as usual' to water down the Bribery Act."
The Bribery Act is seen as the U.K.counterpart to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a law that bans bribery of foreign officials by companies and individuals. In some respects, the U.K. law is tougher: It has harsher sentencing guidelines, establishes a corporate criminal offense, no limit to assessed fines and doesn't include an exception for "facilitation payments," payments made to expedite routine government actions such as issuing permits or licenses.
In the absence of the government's guidance, Transparency International UK said it will issue its own to "allow companies to get a 'head start' in tightening up their anticorruption procedures."
-By Samuel Rubenfeld, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2786; [email protected]