Munir Patel has been sentenced to six years’ imprisonment, following his conviction under the new UK Bribery Act. He pleaded guilty to receiving a bribe of £500 in exchange for offering to change a record at the Magistrates’ Court where he worked. I am guessing that he will appeal against the sentence – which seems a little draconian on the face of it – and it will be interesting to see how that goes.
Whilst the sentence is a heavy one, it’s worth mentioning that it was for the dual offences of accepting a bribe and the abuse of public office, and it is arguable that the relative severity of the sentence was as much because Patel profited by abusing his position as a Clerk to a Magistrates’ Court, as it was for accepting a bribe. From his point of view, it’s unfortunate that, as the first person to be sentenced under the new Act, he has probably suffered from the double whammy of being an example for others, and having had particulars of his offence plastered across the front page of The Sun – who would probably have complained loud and long if the person caught by their sting had got off with a suspended sentence, or a community service order.
Appeal or no appeal, the sentence sends out a clear message to anybody involved with, or contemplating bribery, whether they be an individual or an employee of a multinational. Judges now have significant powers to award long sentences to offenders, (up to ten years’ imprisonment) and it appears that even if you are (a) a person of previous good character who (b) pleaded guilty and (c) was convicted of the receipt of a relatively small bribe (£500, though it has been suggested – by the defendant himself – that he had taken at least 53 other payments previously) you will, nevertheless, go to prison for a considerable length of time. What will happen to someone with a previous history, or who has paid or received thousands of pounds, remains to be seen but is probably going to be messy.
In the meantime, the message to all companies must be to get your compliance programmes in place, train your employees and make sure that you have done everything possible to devise and implement “adequate procedures” as a defence against any allegations of bribery.
The Judiciary – well, His Honour Judge McCreath, anyway – is on the warpath.