Saturday, 18 April 2015

Bribery - asymmetric justice

The common law offence of misconduct in public office occurs when a public officer, acting as such, wilfully neglects to perform his duty and/or wilfully misconducts himself to such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the public's trust in the office holder without reasonable excuse or justification. Taking money in return for divulging confidential information is clearly such misconduct and in a recent series of cases triggered by the Milly Dowler case, 21 out of 28 public officials, including police, prison officers, health workers and a Ministry of Defence official have been convicted and jailed.

One would think that the man paying the bribe, procuring the offence of misconduct, would be equally guilty, but the Court of Appeal has disagreed. That was worrying enough, but what disturbed me more was the shameless celebration by the journalists afterwards, like football fans revelling in a win by a dubious penalty. "We were only doing our job" was the mantra.

Clearly the same justification could be offered by our arms salesmen or other businessmen obtaining contracts abroad by bribery. In the Bribery Acts of 2010 and 2012, the UK brought itself up to the standard of enlightened nations. Will the Elveden acquittals will tempt certain British corporations to fall back into their old bad ways?

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