Munir Patel, an administration clerk at an Essex magistrates' court, today became the first person to be convicted under the new Bribery Act.
He was sentenced to six years' imprisonment after pleading guilty to a bribery offence and misconduct in a public office.
The sentencing of the court clerk sends a clear message that bribery offences will be met with custodial sentences, as courts take full advantage of the new sentencing powers handed down by the Bribery Act, which allows up to 10 years' imprisonment.
Patel, a clerk at Redbridge Magistrates' Court, Ilford, accepted £500 to avoid putting details of a traffic summons on a court database. Whilst he pleaded guilty to one count of bribery, prosecutors believe that he helped at least 53 individuals, earning up to £20,000.
In sentencing Patel, Judge Alistair McCreath made clear that the defendant's actions amounted to a very serious offence and a very substantial breach of trust, saying: "...a justice system in which officials are prepared to take bribes in order to allow offenders to escape the proper consequences of their offending is inherently corrupt and is one which deserves no public respect and which will attract none."
He went on to say that: "...the public would expect, and rightly expect, the courts to tackle strong action to protect and defend the integrity of the justice system."
Patel was handed a three year prison term for the bribery offence and ordered to serve six years concurrently for misconduct in a public office.
Whilst not forgetting this was a prosecution against an individual and that this case sets no precedent, it is a reminder to businesses that bribery, at any level, is taken very seriously by the courts.
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.
Senior officers, including company directors, can also be prosecuted in a personal capacity if it can be proved that an act of bribery was committed with their consent, connivance, or was attributable to their neglect.
If you have not already done so, it is important that businesses act immediately to put in place adequate procedures in order to prevent bribery.
Shoosmiths has put together a 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. An e-learning training course has also been developed and rolled out to several clients.
If you would like further assistance on complying with the Bribery Act, please contact: