Following on from the announcement on the Government's White Collar Crime package earlier today, Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan T.D. has now published the Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Bill 2017. This is a hugely important Bill which will completely modernise Irish anti-corruption laws and make them more accessible to the general public. It will repeal and replace the seven previous Prevention of Corruption Acts dating back as far as 1889. However, the Bill is not merely a consolidation of the old laws. It is a robust and innovative piece of legislation that provides for a number of new offences as well as stronger penalties for those convicted of corruption.
Minister Flanagan said “Corruption undermines social cohesion and equality in society. It attacks the integrity of our democratic institutions, is detrimental to the economy and it demoralises citizens. I am delighted to be publishing this Bill today, which has been prioritised by this Government. When it is enacted, it will significantly strengthen our capacity to tackle corruption, both in public office and in commercial enterprises”.
The Bill includes a new offence of ‘trading in influence’ to criminalise bribing a person who may exert an improper influence over the decision-making of a public or foreign official. Under the Bill, it is now an offence for a public official to make use of confidential information acquired in the course of their duties to obtain an advantage, as recommended by the Mahon Tribunal. It outlaws a person giving a gift where the person knows or reasonably ought to know that it will be used to facilitate corruption, also recommended by Mahon. In total, the Bill addresses 6 of the recommendations of the Mahon Tribunal.
The Bill also includes a new strict liability offence where a corporation can be liable for the actions of directors, managers, employees or agents who commit a corruption offence for the benefit of the corporation. Designed to prevent corruption in corporate bodies, it shall be a defence for a company to prove that it took all reasonable measures and exercised due diligence to avoid the commission of the offence.
Regarding the penalties in the Bill, the Minister stated that “Corruption is a very serious crime that has the potential to do considerable social and economic harm, especially when committed by public officials. The penalties must be sufficiently harsh to reflect this”. Sentences of up to 10 years are provided for as well as unlimited fines for conviction on indictment of the main corruption offences in the Bill. The Bill gives discretion to a court to order that a public official found guilty of a corruption offence be removed from their public office or position. The Court will also have the discretion to prohibit those convicted of corruption offences from seeking certain public appointments for up to ten years.
Finally, Minister Flanagan noted the importance of this Bill, both domestically and internationally. “This Government is committed to tackling corruption and takes seriously our international obligations to have effective measures in place to prevent corruption and to adequately punish those who contravene the law”. This Bill will help to meet Ireland’s commitments to various international anti-corruption instruments, such as EU Council Decisions, the United Nations Convention on Corruption, the OECD Convention on Bribery of foreign public officials and the Council of Europe Criminal Law Convention on Corruption.