In recent years there has been a noticeable rise in the number of big city law firms recruiting criminal practitioners to sit in or alongside their commercial teams. This development has been necessitated by the creation of new offences such as corporate manslaughter, and the changes to bribery and financial services brought in by recent anti-corruption legislation. Specialists invested with knowledge of areas, including white collar crime and financial regulation are an important safeguard against committing such offences.
Norton Rose Fulbright is just one example of a firm that has assumed this approach. They appointed Neil O’May, previously of another city firm, as partner specialising in corporate, business and white collar crime. A valuable asset to one of the biggest international corporate firms. This development is not a new one across the pond, particularly in 19060s New York City. In this period a modest number of leading white-collar crime defense specialists started practising in large corporate firms. They began handling matters where individuals and the company had acted in a way that gave cause for concern within the corporate setting.
Back in England and Wales, the Bribery Act 2010 has been responsible for modernising the law on this area. It is now the case that under section 7 commercial organisations may commit an offence if they fail to prevent persons associated with them from bribing another on their behalf. With this change came a need for businesses to implement protections against the new offences. One such example was in the need to prepare bribery prevention procedures based on the Ministry of Justice’s six core principles of: proportionality, top-level commitment, risk assessment, due diligence, communication and monitoring/review. An active demonstration of intolerance to bribery.
In order to safeguard against breaching the new laws, training and communication is essential. There is otherwise the real risk that commercial firms may inadvertantly commit breaches of the criminal law, under one of the plethora of new offences in the fields of financial services, bribery and the Companies Act. It is in the interests of the firm that any chance of wrongdoing is minimised.
Making companies and individuals criminally liable in an even greater range of situations is a powerful tool of control and compliance. The risk that corporate boards face, if something does go amiss, is too great for them not to safeguard themselves in this way. For clients this change should instill them with greater confidence about the service being provided by the firms in question. There is less room for breaches of the law to happen. Having the criminal departments will hopefully ensure this.