MADRID (TrustLaw) – Corruption is ‘the issue of our times’ and the Bribery Act passed by the British government last year is ‘likely to end up as a farce’, Lord Phillips of Sudbury told TrustLaw in an interview.
Even though the Act was ‘very well thought through’, Phillips, a member of the UK House of Lords – the upper house of parliament - and a speaker at this year’s European Pro Bono Forum, said that it might not be effective because of the lack of resources necessary to its implementation.
Phillips said corruption is spreading everywhere and was among the main causes of the collapse of the global financial system.
“You have only got to look at the financial collapse… of all financial centres of the world, and that was substantially underpinned by corruption.”
“The fact that no one in the City – as far as I am aware – has been put behind bars for it is another reflection of the grotesque inadequacy of our prosecuting resources.”
“…At home, the existing laws of fraud, etcetera are a dead letter most of the time because you need expert(s), resources in quantity to begin to grapple with the problem,” he added.
The UK Bribery Act produced by the Labour government in 2010 – which covers not only UK-based companies but also overseas operations of firms doing business in Britain - was hailed as one of the toughest anti-corruption laws in the world, thought to be more hard-hitting than the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) in the U.S..
But it faced criticism after its promulgation a year later when guidance attached to it was thought to have watered it down and created loopholes in the legislation.
No corporations and only one individual has been prosecuted under the Act, raising concerns about the possibility of implementing the law effectively.
CUTS THREATEN LEGAL AID, PRO BONO
Looming cuts to the British legal aid systems are a sign that the UK is on a backward path, Phillips said.
“I think we are going backwards in the UK because… we cut back on legal aid to a significant extent – and I understand the financial problems for the government – at a time when the normal person, the ordinary person more than ever in our history has needed access to the legal services,” Phillips said.
The controversial Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) due to become law next year, will cut 350 million pounds from the annual legal aid budget of 2.2 billion pounds.
Phillips argued that pro bono – legal services provided for free by lawyers to those unable to afford their fees - was also on the back foot in the UK because of the cuts in legal aid and because of the introduction of alternative business structures in law firms.
“It is, I am afraid, a devastating blow because alternative business entities – which are going to be majority owned by private investment outfits – will be in it simply for the money,” he said.
“They are not interested in pro bono, they’re not coming at it from a professional direction anyhow - they just want to make as much money as possible for their shareholders.”