Frequently Asked Questions: Corporate Crime

Corporate Crime FAQs

"An excellent team of bright and dedicated lawyers."

Chambers UK 2021

How is corporate criminal liability established?

In recent years, three important pieces of legislation have sought to overcome the historical difficulty in establishing corporate criminal liability by creating specific corporate offences:

For most other offences, there are two legal principles by which a company can be prosecuted for criminal offences: 

  • Vicarious liability, which applies principally to offences where there is no requirement to prove any mental element and nothing further needs to be proven beyond the existence of the facts amounting to the contravention. A number of statutes set out what are essentially strict liability offences, but the use of this principle as a basis for corporate prosecutions is most commonly found in quasi-regulatory areas of criminal law such as health and safety and environmental law.
  • The "identification principle" which applies to offences that include a mental element (such as intent, dishonesty or knowledge) within their definition.  The identification principle establishes that only the acts and state of mind of those who represent the directing mind and will of the company can be imputed to the company itself. Historically it has proven a hurdle that has often prevented companies from being held liable for the acts of individuals who work within them. 


Are there likely to be any changes to the law on corporate criminal liability? 

The Government issued a call for evidence relating to Corporate Liability for Economic Crime in 2017.  This focused on whether existing laws sufficiently hold companies to account for the criminal wrongdoing of their staff. In particular, it looked at whether successful convictions were being hindered by the current position where prosecutors needed to prove the “directing mind and will” of businesses undertaking criminal activity. The Anti-Corruption Strategy 2017-2022 set out that the government will consider the findings of this call for evidence and its 1 Year Update confirmed that it will respond to findings in Spring 2019. There has been no follow up on this.

The Serious Fraud Office has pushed for the failure to prevent model to be extended to fraud and money laundering for some time now and continues to do so. There are calls for this to include holding companies to account for failure to prevent human rights abuses.

A new corporate offence of failing to prevent the facilitation of tax evasion, based on the existing offence of failure to prevent bribery was introduced under the Criminal Finances Act 2017. This came into force on 30 September 2017. HMRC has recently focused on improving the procedure to self-report.  For a company to be guilty of the offence there must be proof of tax evasion to the criminal standard of proof - beyond reasonable doubt - but a prosecution and conviction of the individual taxpayer is not required. There will be a "reasonable procedures" defence: that reasonable procedures were in place or it was unreasonable to have them.


What about the position of individuals when companies are investigated and prosecuted? 

The particular legislation under which the prosecution has been brought will determine which positions within a company are at risk of prosecution, though typically it will apply to directors and other senior officers and managers. As well as the substantive offences including fraud, false accounting misleading the market etc, there are over 400 statutes covering a range of economic and other activity that allow for individuals to be prosecuted because they have participated in criminal offending through consent, connivance or neglect. 

Where a person is convicted on this basis they are convicted of the offence of which it is said the company was guilty, although it is important to note that no conviction of the company is necessary to found the prosecution of one of its officers. All that is required is that the commission of the offence by the company is proven to the necessary standard, including the disproving of any corporate defence that may apply. 

The DPA scheme enables a company to negotiate a DPA, but a prosecution nonetheless takes place of officers whose consent, connivance or neglect is said to be attributable to the company's offending. Frequently a term of the DPA will include that the company assists in such a prosecution.

In August 2019,  the SFO published Corporate Co-operation Guidance which sets out how the SFO assesses co-operation from business entities and the potential benefits of such co-operation. 

Since part of the negotiation of a DPA involves drafting an agreed statement of facts giving the full particulars relating to each alleged offence, it is likely to include the role played by particular individuals. There may well be a conflict between the interests of the company and its senior officers. Lawyers advising the company will have to approach this issue carefully.


Further information

If you have any questions relating to corporate crime, please contact a member of our team.

What clients and directories say about us

The firm has some very experienced practitioners who will work as part of a team in the biggest cases.”

Legal 500 UK 2021

They have a fantastic practice in this area."

Chambers UK 2021

There is huge collective experience within the team.”

Legal 500 UK 2021

They have a practice that is head and shoulders above the others available in the market."

Chambers High Net Worth Gudie 2020

Well-known name in the market, with deep expertise in all aspects of serious corporate crime including regulatory breaches and complex fraud. Adept at handling international corruption, fraudulent trading and false accounting matters. Well versed in bribery and money laundering investigations. Notable experience in advising on internal investigations and compliance, as well as in handling proceedings by government enforcement agencies."

Chambers UK 2020 – A Client’s Guide to the UK Legal Profession

One of the premier white collar defence teams in London."

Legal 500 UK 2020

The criminal litigation department at Kingsley Napley LLP continues to ‘hold its own against the Magic Circle firms’."

Legal 500

Very good at litigation and have a fantastic reputation in the white-collar world."

Chambers High Net Worth Guide, 2019

The firm has very good criminal lawyers with strength and depth throughout the department."

Chambers UK 2019

This top-tier UK-based firm stands out in the region for its distinguished white-collar crime practice."

Who's Who Legal: Business Crime Defence, 2018

I believe their strength lies in their meticulous attention to detail and the intelligence of the individuals employed by that firm. I could not imagine a better law firm."

Chambers and Partners, 2018

They guide you expertly through the criminal and regulatory landscape in a very effective, practical way."

Chambers and Partners, 2018

Kingsley Napley are collegiate and easy to work with. You know you could give work to any of the partners, it wouldn't matter because you know they would all give good advice." 

Chambers and Partners, 2018


Corporate Crime FAQs Insights

View all


Crunching the numbers: is the National Crime Agency right to seek additional funding?

Working in partnership: a new public/private approach to tackle economic crime

Reform of corporate liability – renewed calls for change

The Magnitsky Clause Part 1: Profiting from the suppression of whistleblowers – what does it mean for business?

Anti-Money Laundering: new rules and regulations in play

A new criminal offence for corporates that fail to prevent human rights abuses?

Companies and directors of larger companies face criminal prosecution and unlimited fines for non or misreporting of payment practices

Q & A – What do FCA regulated firms need to know about Financial Crime Return reporting?

Health Care sector feels brunt of new rules

Bribery in the workplace: fair dismissal?

Corporate corruption: Smith & Ouzman ordered to pay £2.2m

New call by the SFO’s Director for US style powers to punish companies in the future

Corporate manslaughter, health and safety and food safety sentencing guidelines published

New Sentencing Health and Safety and Corporate Manslaughter Sentencing Guidelines - Massive increase in fines for medium and large companies expected

Lessons learned from the first resolution under s7 of the Bribery Act

Corporate liability extension rejected: “failure to prevent” offence confined to the Bribery Act

Sentencing very large companies for environmental crimes – Fines equal to 100% of profit not unreasonable

New criminal offence for illegal workers – will it have any impact?

Care Home charged with Corporate Manslaughter

Publicity Order and prison sentence in latest corporate manslaughter case

Close Load more

Skip to content Home About Us Insights Services Contact Accessibility