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Economic Crimes

Ministry of Justice

Estimated Completion, Summer 2016

Officials from the Government, Law Commission and Serious Fraud Office have recognised the need for reform to the UK’s corporate liability framework to enable law enforcement to prosecute large corporates for economic crimes. In 2016 it was the Government’s own assessment that: “criminal law currently renders corporations that refrain from implementing good corporate governance and strong reporting procedures hard to prosecute and offers no incentives to invest in such procedures. It is those corporations that deliberately turn a blind eye to wrongdoing and preserve their ignorance of criminality within their organisation that the current criminal law most advantages.” Although in 2017 the Ministry of Justice opened a call for evidence concerning criminal offences designed to punish and prevent economic crimes, it has yet to open a consultation proper or to respond to the Call for Evidence. In the meantime, there remains no real legal mechanism for holding large institutions criminally to account for this kind of wrongdoing. It is high time for reform.

Failing to prevent


An extension of the scope of the criminal offence of ‘failure to prevent’ to economic crimes such as money laundering or fraud could see company bosses prosecuted for failing to stop their staff from facilitating these crimes. Forcing company bosses and boards to take responsibility for the actions of their employees could significantly alter the corporate culture which too often fosters an enabling environment which allows corruption to persist.

If included in legislation the criminalisation of failing to prevent economic crimes, such as money laundering, would increase the threat of conviction and, as Jeremy Wright noted, might make companies more likely to proactively discourage such offences within the organisation in the first place. And if our gatekeeping institutions are increasingly galvanised to combat money laundering, corrupt elites around the world will have fewer opportunities and avenues for hiding their ill-gotten gains.  Money meant for schools and hospitals overseas would not end up in UK property or in anonymous companies registered in one of our Overseas Territories or Crown Dependencies. Companies can and must play a critical role in reducing the UK’s role as a safe haven for corrupt assets.


At the Anti-Corruption Summit the UK stated: “the UK is introducing a penalty for UK companies that fail to prevent their employees from facilitating tax evasion, including in other jurisdictions and is launching a consultation on extending this penalty to a wider range of economic crimes, such as money-laundering, fraud and false accounting”. The Ministry for Justice pledged to launch the consultation in summer 2016.

The University College London’s Centre for Ethics and Law also published a “Professional Services Leaders’ Statement of Support for the London Anti-Corruption Summit”, in which signatories stated their commitment to “play our part in efforts to prevent the proceeds of crime and corruption from entering legitimate capital and investment markets,” stating, “the importance of this challenge has never been clearer”.


The Government opened a call for evidence in January 2017, and said that a public consultation on the detail of a firm proposal for reform may be launched later in the year, depending on the results of the call for evidence. The call for evidence closed on 31 March 2017.

The UK Anti-Corruption Strategy: Year 1 Update states that the “Government’s response to the Call for Evidence on Corporate Liability for Economic Crime will be published in 2019. Work is continuing on analysis of the evidence and future options.”

Anti-corruption groups including Transparency International UK have expressed concern that this issue was not referenced in the Government’s Economic Crime Plan, published in July 2019.

The Government has not yet released the results of its call for evidence or launched a consultation on how to reform the UK’s outdated corporate liability regime. The UK Anti-Corruption Strategy Year 2 Update states that the Government’s response to the call for evidence is still being actively considered.