International review

Great Britain: Fighting corruption since XIIIth cenruty

Britain had been fighting corruption for centuries. The first audit of London City dates back to 1200 and even then the corrupted couldn’t buy the silence of those checking up on them as the whole procedure was supervised by governmental officials and laymen.

The auditors had thoroughly checked the financial records of large households and then composed a declaration that was made available to general public. This way the country could oversee how its subjects spend the money they received from the Treasury.

Historians say that although bribe takers had always found legal loopholes it was still possible to tackle the general impunity of corruption.

First anti-corruption law

The first anti-graft British law was enacted in 1889. In it anything ranging from a gift to a monetary compensation was considered a bribe if it led to officials having “blurred vision” or neglecting their direct duties. Those caught were sent to prison and stripped of the right to serve in government. In case of a repeated offense the convict was denied the right to serve in any capacity and also received no pension. This law stated that the officials engaging in “trading posts” will be prosecuted and jailed for two years, no matter if the one bought or sold a certain governmental post. The same goes for all British Colonies.

In 1906 and 1916 the new legislative anti-graft measures that increased the severity of punishment came into action. In 1906 a term “bribery with intent of profit” was introduced and those found guilty on this charge paid a certain fine determined by the court and went away for up to 2 years. For the first time in history the term “extortion” appeared. Now one could’ve been convicted for either bribing the official or being the official who demanded bribing. Those who demanded lost their voting privileges, could no longer serve in the government and go to jail for up to 7 years.

Christmas gift is not a bribe

The British anti-graft law makes an exception for Christmas gifts: they are not equated to bribes. However, there is a special list of such gifts: only ballpens, journals, calendars could be accepted and their price not must be above the market minimum. Also a company logo must be clearly visible on any of the aforementioned items that were given to the civil servants as a reward for their work. Any other presents should be rejected by the government employee. If the gift in question comes from the foreign company before accepting it the official must ask permission from his/her boss who usually grants it.

These laws were in action in UK up to 2010.

Anti-bribery laws

The newly enacted British law against bribery is short, clear and very strict. The anti-corruption legislation was only slightly reformed: certain changes were made to already existing rules that date back a good 100 years to ensure the legislation is equipped for modern day challenges.

Fighting corruption in offshore zones

The aforementioned anti-graft legislation oversees corruption in all governmental organisations as well as in private sector, but most importantly it grants successful prosecution of all foreigners working in the UK. That’s why these laws are really progressive. Now the court can open cases against a foreign company that operates not only in Britain but also on any British territory including the Virgin, Gibraltar and Jersey Islands. All the aforementioned areas are offshore zones, so they are often used by large multinational corporations for money laundering.

All companies that have subsidiaries in Britain are automatically liable to be prosecuted according to the British anti-corruption laws. However, many experts believe that now the UK could use its laws “with intent for profit”: according to the anti-graft legislation it is a no brainer to force any company accused of corruption to give away the business rights to one of its British investors.

On the other hand this particular legislation came into action 7 years ago and wasn’t changed since. Many believe that anti-graft laws are not working, because very few were actually prosecuted for corruption since it’s been in action.

This may be true, but corruption scandals do happen from time to time. According to the Sputnik News, every year $3 billions are spent on secret corporate lobbying of certain British lawmakers and over $5.2 million is paid to MPs acting as consultants to firms.

Law Enforcement representatives claim that corruption was successfully annihilated only in education and healthcare industries. Everything that is connected to governmental purchases is still very much corrupt.

Independent supervisory system

The Internal Investigations Department oversees anti-corruption investigations in Home Office. Those working there are not policemen and not even lawyers: they are honoured British citizens and they are very thorough in reviewing any complaints. Also it is impossible to make them “look the other way”.

The Committee on Standards of Public Conduct supervises Ministers, Chief governmental Executives, Members of Parliament and local officials. Created in 1994 it is also composed of prominent public figures who review civil servants’ performance and recommend an appropriate action if necessary. The Committee developed a special Code of Conduct for all governmental employees. This Code states any state official must be objective and incorrupt as well as possess many other honourable qualities.

Even though the breach of the aforementioned Code is not punishable by prosecution, the experts say a mere publication of one’s wrongdoing goes a long way in preventing bribery and fraud. 

All of the above taken into account disgraceful corruption scandals still stain the UK government’s reputation. To this day the most notorious of those is the 2006 scandal concerning selling places in the House of Lords. Tony Blair the then Prime Minister of Britain was called as a witness during the investigation as well as many other high-ranking officials.

The investigation revealed that four candidates that could have been elected as Members of the House of Lords actually bought their titles and failed to declare the sums they paid to the Labor Party. The fake Lords were stripped of their mandates, but nobody resigned and no one went to jail.

In 2009 in the House of Commons a group of lobbyists was found guilty of accepting payments for promoting certain initiatives.