Corporate accountability for grand corruption and the rule of law in the UK
Tackling the involvement of northern companies and banks in global corruption has now been recognised as a major part of the fight against corruption.
In response, OECD countries have increasingly put in place laws to deal with bribery and money laundering. However, enforcement of these laws continues to be slow and patchy. Under-resourced enforcement units are frequently asked to investigate and prosecute large corporations and corrupt actors with limitless funds and the best legal expertise that money can buy; all while investigating a crime that is notoriously complex and on which there is still precious little case law. As a result the UK and other countries have followed trends in the US towards making settlements with, and civil recoveries from, companies involved in corruption rather than pursuing prosecutions. This raises the question of whether justice is really being done when it comes to grand corruption.
From February 2014, companies in the UK have been able to enter into Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPAs) with prosecutors in relation to corruption and other economic crimes. DPAs are a mechanism whereby companies can extinguish their criminal liability for wrongdoing by entering into an agreement with a prosecutor to pay a fine and compensation, and implement changes to their corporate structure to ensure re-offending can’t occur. This is a major departure for the UK justice system, introduced with the intention of making it quicker and easier to resolve cases of corporate crime and, the government claims, to secure better outcomes for victims. However, there is concern that DPAs are in effect a ‘get out of jail free’ card for companies that may make it harder for other countries to bring their corrupt officials to justice. Moreover, the government introduced DPAs without ensuring that adequate corporate liability laws and a strong, well-funded enforcement regime were in place to enable corporate economic crime to be successfully prosecuted in the UK, leaving prosecutors in a weak position when negotiating DPAs.
This project will explore whether the UK legal system and enforcement regime are adequately holding companies to account for corruption and whether justice is being served by the introduction of Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPAs) to tackle corporate corruption. It is intended that the project will actively attempt to influence the policy and legal environment, to ensure that that the UK legal framework (and particularly corporate liability laws) is fit for purpose, that DPAs are used in a limited and appropriate way rather than as a short cut for dealing with politically sensitive and difficult cases, and that companies alleged to have been involved in corruption are properly brought to justice.
To do so, Corruption Watch UK will be investigating and reporting on a number of features of DPAs, including their applicability and their anticipated impact on the enforcement of the law without fear or favour. These will eventually be published in the Reports and Publications section below. In addition, Corruption Watch UK will be initiating a volunteer-run trial monitoring network, to track the development of corruption case law in the UK, which will compliment already existing case studies developed by Corruption Watch UK and available below. Finally, Corruption Watch UK intends to engage with major stakeholders in the development and implementation of DPAs, including MPs, victim groups and legal enforcement, the results of which we will make available via the Policy Documents and Position Papers section below.