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What is bribery?

A bribe is any inducement or reward provided by Person A for Person B to act improperly in order to gain an advantage (whether commercial, contractual, regulatory or personal). A bribe may take the form of money, gifts, hospitality or some other benefit or a promise to provide one of those things in the future.

It is still considered bribery if it happens in a private business relationship (not just if public officers or government officials are involved). It does not matter whether the bribe is provided directly or indirectly and the person receiving the bribe is the same one who will deliver the advantage.

UK legislation counts improper payments for people to do their job properly (known as 'facilitation payments') as bribes. These typically involve a bribe to avoid an application or notice being 'lost' or put to the bottom of the pile.

It is also a specific offence under the Bribery Act 2010 to bribe a foreign public official. For these purposes, 'public official' is very broadly defined and includes anyone who:

  • holds a legislative, administrative or judicial position of any kind (whether appointed or elected) in a country or territory outside the UK

  • exercises a public function for or on behalf of any country or territory outside the UK or any public agency or public enterprise of such a country or territory

  • is an official or agent of a public international organisation

Who is liable for bribery?

You have committed an offence whether you are the person giving/offering the bribe or the person receiving/soliciting it.

An organisation is liable for bribery that takes place in connection with its business even without its knowledge if it fails to take adequate measures to prevent it.

Companies are responsible for all associated persons, which include not just employees with an Employment contract but everyone who provides services to it or on its behalf (eg agents and consultants).

Senior officers and directors of a company may be held personally liable for bribes if they consented to or connived in the bribe.

What about bribery outside the UK?

If you are a person with a 'close connection' to the UK then you can be prosecuted even if the bribery takes place elsewhere and you live and work outside the UK.

If you are a company that is registered in or carries out business in the UK then you can be prosecuted even if the bribery takes place elsewhere.

It is not a defence that the act was lawful under the laws of the country where the bribery happened (with extremely limited exceptions).

What else should I know?

All organisations should conduct a risk assessment of the extent to which they are exposed to the potential for bribery and take measures to combat the risks identified.

Bear in mind that you will also need to comply with local laws in the countries in which you operate as well as the UK rules.

Training and written guidance for staff are essential components of the 'adequate measures' defence, but may not be enough by themselves. To include the required clauses in your employment contracts or to create an anti-bribery policy, Ask a lawyer.

Tone from the top matters. Ensure senior staff establish and publicise a zero-tolerance regime, internally and externally. 

The government has issued guidance on avoiding liability for bribery and the risk-based approach.

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