Failure to prevent financial crime

Criminal Finances Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:15 am on 22nd November 2016.

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‘(1) A relevant body (B) is guilty of an offence if a person commits a criminal financial offence when acting in the capacity of a person associated with (B).

(2) It is a defence for B to prove that, when the criminal financial offence was committed—

(a) B had in place such prevention procedures as it was reasonable in all the circumstances to expect B to have in place, or

(b) it was not reasonable in all the circumstances to expect B to have any prevention procedures in place.

(3) In subsection (2) “prevention procedures” means procedures designed to prevent persons acting in the capacity of a person associated with B from committing criminal financial offences.

(4) For the purposes of this clause—

“criminal financial offence” means one of the following offences—

(a) an offence under section 1, 6 or 7 of the Fraud Act 2006;

(b) an offence under section 17 of the Theft Act 1968;

(c) an offence under section 327, 328 and 329 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002;

(d) a common law offence of conspiracy to defraud;

“relevant body” has the same meaning as in section 36.

(5) A relevant body guilty of an offence under this section is liable—

(a) on conviction on indictment, to a fine,

(b) on summary conviction in England and Wales, to a fine,

(c) on summary conviction in Scotland or Northern Ireland, to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum.

(6) It is immaterial for the purposes of this section whether—

(a) any relevant conduct of a relevant body, or

(b) any conduct which constitutes part of a relevant criminal financial offence

takes place in the United Kingdom or elsewhere.”—

This new clause would create a corporate offence of failing to prevent financial crime.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Financial Secretary (Treasury)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause would create a corporate offence of failing to prevent financial crime. It would compel the financial services industry to take greater steps to stamp out financial crime, and to tackle tax evasion and other economic crimes. At the heart of the new clause is the need for a level playing field, and to end the impunity that many large global organisations have enjoyed, whereby directors have plausible deniability if they are not involved in decisions taken at a lower level by employees.

The 2015 Conservative party manifesto stated:

“We are...making it a crime if companies fail to put in place measures to stop economic crime, such as tax evasion, in their organisations and making sure that the penalties are large enough to punish and deter.”

At the UK anti-corruption summit on 12 May this year, the Government announced that the Ministry of Justice would consult on an extension of

“the criminal offence of a corporate ‘failing to prevent’ beyond bribery and tax evasion to other economic crimes.”

They acknowledged that law enforcement struggles

“to prosecute corporations for money laundering, false accounting, and fraud under existing common laws.”

As far as I am aware, no consultation has been announced; it appears that the consultation is likely to have been downgraded to a call for evidence, bringing further delay and sending the wrong message.

The Opposition are always willing to assist the Government where it is sensible and in the interests of the country to do so. The new clause would enable the Government to fulfil their manifesto promise, which I know is dear to the hearts of every Government Member; I know that they recite the manifesto with catechistic fervour before, during and after meetings of the 1922 committee. The Minister will sleep easier knowing that he has delivered his part of the schedule ahead of time. I expect Government Members will want to fulfil the UK summit’s commitment before the parliamentary calendar becomes clogged up with Brexit-related measures. The Prime Minister has promised to deliver an economy in which everybody plays by the same rules.

UK corporate liability laws rely on a “directing mind” test, which requires prosecutors to prove that senior board level executives intended misconduct to occur. This moves the focus of attention away from the bigger fishes, and on to small and medium-sized enterprises, where directors are more involved and can therefore be more easily prosecuted—quite rightly, if appropriate. This was a concern of some of the witnesses. The system undermines corporate governance by creating perverse incentives to keep boards in the dark about decisions that may lead to misconduct. Several recent major scandals, including LIBOR and Euribor, have resulted in no prosecutions against companies owing to the current corporate liability regime.

Where individuals have been prosecuted under conspiracy to defraud, they have argued that their actions were condoned and encouraged by their employers. However, the Serious Fraud Office has not charged any of the employers concerned, which include Barclays, UBS and Deutsche Bank, and not a single UK financial institution faced criminal charges as a result of the 2008 financial crisis. A “failure to prevent” offence for fraud and conspiracy to defraud would have enabled such prosecutions. Similarly, in 2015 the SFO was forced to drop its case against Olympus after the Court of Appeal found that it was not illegal under current corporate liability laws for companies to mislead their auditors. This was also the case in 2015, when the CPS stated that because of corporate liability laws, it could not mount a successful prosecution against the companies in the phone hacking scandal, which included some of the largest tabloid newspapers in the UK. Although the new clause would not specifically address the phone hacking case, it highlights the urgent need for broader corporate liability reform.

The Government also need to tackle the facilitators of corruption.

The Chair adjourned the Committee without Question put (Standing Order No. 88).

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.