Court of Appeal Rules on Bribery under 1906 Act

26 January 2016

On 15 January, the Court of Appeal decided in favour of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to confirm that bribery of foreign officials was illegal prior to 2002 under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906.

The question put to Judge Pegden QC in November 2015 and subsequently the Court of Appeal was: Prior to the coming into force of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 ("the 2001 Act"), did the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906 ("the 1906 Act") make it an offence to corrupt an agent of a foreign principal or a foreign body even if the actus reus of the offence took place within this jurisdiction?

This is undoubtedly another victory for the SFO’s anti-bribery efforts that only recently saw success in the first DPA and first section 7 cases under the Bribery Act 2010.

Prior to this Court of Appeal decision, the position was clear that corruption overseas could be prosecuted in the UK where it had taken place after 14 February 2002, as provisions within the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act explicitly covered it, and the position was clear under the Bribery Act which replaced the earlier law. However, the SFO is still using the old 1906 Act to prosecute companies and individuals for pre 2002 conduct and the law had never been formally clarified before this case. This decision is significant because it means that bribery of a foreign government official prior to 2002 was illegal and can be prosecuted by the SFO under the 1906 Act. It is likely that leave will be sought to appeal the case to the Supreme Court, given the importance of the ruling.

In the year that the Government plans to host an international “anti-corruption summit” it is clear that investigations into bribery are not going away. However, the reliance on the old law will be reduced as  cases of more recent conduct will be prosecuted under the Bribery Act 2010.

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