Government to consider widening the list of crimes companies could be held criminally responsible for

Hayley Kirton
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Jeremy Wright said government would soon be asking for feedback on various aspects of corporate liability (Source: Getty)

Government could broaden the types of crimes companies can be held responsible for, the attorney general told MPs today.

Answering questions on government's policy on corporate criminal liability, Jeremy Wright said government would soon be calling for evidence to look into further reform, and potentially whether it should widen the crimes companies could be found liable for failing to prevent beyond bribery and tax evasion.

The requirement for companies to prevent tax evasion is contained in the Criminal Finances Bill, which is currently working its way through parliament, and the offence for failing to prevent bribery is contained within the Bribery Act 2010.

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Wright, who started his week by opening government's case in the Article 50 appeal in the Supreme Court, noted that, among the factors government was keen to consider, were what the UK could learn from how corporate criminal liability works overseas and whether offences were adequately set out to capture all sizes of companies.

"If it's easy or easier to prosecute those in charge of small companies than those in charge of large companies, because of the complexity of their management structures, that cannot be right," he said.

However, the attorney general added that government was keen to make sure the ability to hold companies to account did not ignore the reality of running a business.

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"It's important to also make sure we take full account of concerns that will be expressed of burdens that will be put on businesses if we get that balance wrong," he said.

The ability, or lack thereof, to hold companies to account for wrongdoings has come under fire as of late.

In a recent Justice Select Committee hearing, director of the Serious Fraud Office, David Green, whose agency has secured a number of convictions against individuals for Libor rigging offences in recent years, expressed frustration the current law had made it impossible to take one of the banks involved to court.

Last year, property surveyor Sweett Group became the first company to be convicted under the Bribery Act, pleading guilty to a bribery offence. The company was subsequently fined £2.25m.

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