An administration clerk at an Essex magistrates' court is the first person to be charged under the new Bribery Act, after allegedly accepting £500 from a defendant to 'fix' a motoring offence.
The business and legal sectors anticipated a high profile company would be first to be charged under the new Act, which came into force on 1 July 2011, but this is not the case.
Munir Patel, a clerk at Redbridge Magistrates' Court, Ilford, is also accused of misconduct in a public office and perverting the course of justice. He was charged under Section 2 of the Act for allegedly requesting and receiving a bribe intending to improperly perform his functions as a court clerk.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) confirmed that: "Mr Patel allegedly promised an individual summonsed for a motoring offence that he could influence the course of criminal proceedings in exchange for £500 on 1 August 2011".
The CPS confirmed that having reviewed police evidence, and considering the Director of Public Prosecutions' guidelines on the Bribery Act, it was satisfied there was sufficient evidence, and that it was in the public interest to prosecute.
Mr Patel remains in custody and is due to appear at Southwark Crown Court on 14 October.
If convicted he faces up to a maximum 10 years' imprisonment after tougher sentencing for individuals was introduced under the Act.
The Serious Fraud Office has indicated that it would focus on bribes in excess of £1m, but the charging of Mr Patel by the CPS indicates that bribery, irrespective of the amounts involved, will be investigated, especially in circumstances where the offence committed is a serious one, and it is in the public interest to prosecute.
The Bribery Act creates four criminal offences, including the corporate offence of failing to prevent bribery, which attracts an unlimited fine. A company will have a defence if it can show it has in place adequate procedures to prevent bribery happening.
Government guidance on what amounts to 'adequate procedures' is goal setting rather than prescriptive.
Shoosmiths has put together a suggested Bribery Act compliance plan on the steps a company should consider, and has helped clients with implementation, ranging from risk assessments, training, and writing policies.
If you require help implementing your compliance plan, please contact: