How corrupt is the UK?

Written by Andrew Clarke on Wednesday August 27, 2014

The conviction of three people in June for conspiracy to commit bribery relating to match fixing had me thinking (again)… can we use the number of corruption convictions as an indicator on how corrupt the UK actually is?

The three involved in the football conspiracy would be recorded as Bribery Act 2010 convictions under the Home Office Counting Rules, albeit the convictions for conspiracy are technically under the Criminal Law Act 1977. They would then add to the previous Bribery Act convictions of the Magistrates' court clerk who accepted a £500 bribe to ‘get rid’ of a speeding conviction; the aspiring taxi driver who offered a council driving test assessor £200 to their reverse decision; and the student who attempted to bribe his tutors by offering £5,000 cash for a pass mark (a little more sinister as he also had an imitation handgun that ‘fell’ out of his pocket at the time!).

But surely that is not the limit of prosecutions for bribery and corruption? Research by Transparency International UK (2011) concluded that ‘hundreds, if not thousands, of corruption cases go unreported because they are prosecuted as different offences’.

If you asked the Law Society how many corruption convictions there were for solicitors, or asked a similar question of a police force on how many corruption convictions had been achieved for police officers and staff, you would get a negligible figure. The reality is that a solicitor who accepts a bribe to abuse their position and facilitate a false mortgage application (clearly an offence under the Bribery Act) would probably be prosecuted for fraud. Likewise, a police employee who accepts payment from a criminal to check confidential intelligence records on the dates of planned drugs searches (again clearly corruption), would almost inevitably be dealt with for Data Protection Act or Computer Misuse offences. Neither of these examples would show up on statistics as corruption.

Certain offences such as fraud or perverting the course of justice may well include elements of corruption, but my point is that they are not recorded as such.

Prior to the Bribery Act 2010, legislation was piecemeal and basically inadequate which led to it rarely being used, with the result that the true level of corruption was never revealed. But this excuse no longer holds. The new Act provides a clearly structured and straightforward set of offences, but there are strong indications that the majority of corruption cases are still not being prosecuted (or even recorded) as such.

So going back to my original question; how corrupt is the UK? Prosecution figures are certainly not going to assist us. And the implications of this can be summed up in one of the Key Findings of the TI-UK research…

A lack of awareness of corruption in the UK among both the public and within policy circles. Information is uncoordinated, or simply unavailable. More worryingly in some cases, there’s an apparent reluctance to accept the possibility that corruption is an issue.

Transparency International UK (2011) Corruption In The UK: Assessment of Key Sectors London: Transparency International.


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