Lord Phillips of Sudbury (the former President of the Supreme Court and Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales) has labelled the Bribery Act's enforcement "grotesquely inadequate" and said the Act could end up as a "farce".
Speaking at a conference in Madrid, Lord Phillips said that corruption is the "issue of our times", adding that the Act is well thought through but likely to end up as a "farce" as a result of poor enforcement. "We need a high quantity and quality of lawyers to bring effective prosecution as large corporates have very large teams of accountants and lawyers to defend them, and that's not good enough for a mature democracy like ours," he added. To date there has only been one prosecution under the Act, involving a hapless Court clerk Munir Patel whose benefit amounted to £500. Although SFO, who are intended to be the Act’s lead enforcement agency, recently (9 October 2012) issued new guidelines indicating a tougher approach to corporate wrong doing, the agency continues to be hampered by budget cuts which in turn has seen many senior staff leave for private practice. The Government seems still to address properly the resource that is plainly needed to make the Act effective. Whilst Lord Phillips in many ways is just further articulating the concerns already made by many parties, his comments represent the most robust position yet from the judiciary; it now remains to be seen whether his intervention will prompt a change of position in Whitehall. The Government may be hoping that its new Deferred Prosecution Agreement policy (announced 23 October 2012) will help in enforce the Act. DPA’s though will not be available until 2014, and by then if the Act has still not seen a substantial and successful prosecution, companies may be less willing to engage with the authorities in any event. It seems clear that Lord Phillips at least does not believe that the Government should wait until then.