The is a guest blog post by Nick Johnson, Q.C., from Exchange Chambers & Bright Line Law, London.
Southwark Crown Court is a designated centre for many of the UK’s serious fraud and white-collar crime jury trials. It is a drab building in a stunning location. There’s a spectacular view of Tower Bridge and the Tower of London over the river, obscured only by HMS Belfast, a WWII cruiser permanently moored as a museum and which, last Christmas, flew the Canadian flag in tribute to the participation of the Royal Canadian Navy in the Battle of North Cape. Hundreds of Canadian sailors served on British ships in the north, including eighty on the Belfast.
As the Maple Leaf flew, I acted for the MD of Skansen Interiors Ltd, a London based fit-out and refurbishment contractor, in a bribery case which concluded last April. The company itself and two of its directors faced charges under the Bribery Act 2010 (“UKBA”), relating to making improper payments in order to secure contracts for two City of London office refurbishments worth about £6m.
The case was a legal first in the UK in that the company, despite having carried out an internal investigation and self-reported to the UK National Crime Agency, then faced a Section 7 UKBA prosecution before a jury in the Crown Court. Section 7 has an unusually wide reach. A company itself is guilty of a criminal offence where a person associated with it bribed another, even where management might be completely unaware of the bribe. It is a rare form of corporate criminal strict liability, subject to a defence where the company can prove, on a balance of probabilities, that it had in place adequate procedures to prevent such conduct. Of course, the legislation is aimed at compelling a change in corporate culture when it comes to effective anti-bribery measures. Quite apart from the interesting questions the case posed as to what may amount to “adequate procedures” and why it was that an entirely co-operative company was not offered a UK Deferred Prosecution Agreement, the focus upon the Section 7 requirements was a clear reminder of how even a non-UK corporate could well end up in a UK criminal dock.