OECD Group demands rapid UK action to enact adequate anti-bribery laws


Paris, 16 October 2008


The OECD's Working Group on Bribery sharply criticised the United Kingdom’s failure to bring its anti-bribery laws into line with its international obligations under the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention and urged the rapid introduction of new legislation.

Current UK legislation makes it very difficult for prosecutors to bring an effective case against a company for alleged bribery offenses. Although the UK ratified the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention 10 years ago, it has so far failed to successfully prosecute any bribery case against a company.

The OECD Working Group, which brings together all 37 countries that are parties to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, is “disappointed and seriously concerned” about the UK’s continued failure to address deficiencies in its laws on bribery of foreign public officials and on corporate liability for foreign bribery, which it said has hindered investigations.

The Group acknowledged positive aspects in the UK’s fight against foreign bribery, including the allocation of significant financial resources and nation-wide jurisdiction to a specialised unit of the City of London Police for foreign bribery investigations. It also noted the UK’s first conviction of an individual in September 2008 for foreign bribery in international business transactions and its recent anti-corruption strategy to improve and strengthen the UK’s law and structures to tackle foreign bribery.

But it emphasised that reforms are urgently needed and should be dealt with as a matter of political priority. Recent cases have also highlighted systemic deficiencies that make clear the need to safeguard the independence of the Serious Fraud Office and eliminate unnecessary obstacles to prosecution.

In a report following a supplementary review of the UK’s implementation of its obligations under the Convention, the Working Group reiterated its previous 2003, 2005 and 2007 recommendations that the UK enact new foreign bribery legislation at the earliest possible date. It expressed its strong regrets concerning uncertainty about the UK’s commitment to establish an effective corporate liability regime in accordance with the Convention, as recommended in 2005.

Among its main recommendations are that the UK should:

  • Enact modern foreign bribery legislation and establish effective corporate liability for bribery as a matter of high priority
  • Take all necessary measures to ensure that Article 5 of the Convention, which notably prohibits consideration of the national economic interest when prosecuting foreign bribery, applies effectively to all investigative and prosecutorial decisions at all stages of a foreign bribery case 
  • Ensure that the Attorney General cannot give instructions to the Director of the Serious Fraud Office about individual foreign bribery cases, and eliminate the need for Attorney General consent to prosecutions of such cases
  • Ensure that the SFO attributes a high priority to foreign bribery cases and has sufficient resources to address such cases effectively

In light of the numerous issues of serious concern, the Working Group has requested the UK to provide quarterly written reports on legislative progress for each Working Group meeting. It may also carry out follow-up visits to the UK, and may take further appropriate action after it considers the reports or any on-site visits.

The Working Group warned that uncertainty over the UK’s legislative framework may trigger a need for increased due diligence over UK companies by their commercial partners or multilateral development banks.

The full report is available here, with the recommendations on page 70. For further information, journalists are invited to contact Spencer Wilson in the OECD Media Division on (33) 1 45 24 8118 or For more information on OECD's work to fight corruption, visit


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