The Royal Commonwealth Society and the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple hosted a seminar on the 18th April 2016 on the important topic of Promoting Prosperity in the Commonwealth, with a particular emphasis on practical ways to combat fraud, bribery and corruption. The keynote speaker was the Rt. Hon. Patricia Scotland QC, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, who gave her first speech on this issue in her new office.
Attendees included a number of High Commissioners and the Director-General of the Prime Minister's forthcoming anti-corruption summit, which will take place on the 12th May 2016.
The seminar was introduced by the Rt. Hon. Lord Howell of Guildford, President of the Royal Commonwealth Society (read the full speech) and His Honour Judge Cryan (Hon.) LLD, the Treasurer of the Inner Temple. The speakers included Vivian Robinson QC, The Rt. Hon. Lady Justice Hallett DBE, David Green CB QC and the Rt. Hon. Sir Anthony Hooper. Key points that arose were as follows:
- Corruption undermines democracy and the rule of law;
- Commonwealth member states should ask themselves whether their anti-corruption legislation was fit for purpose, and reflect on what to do about it if it wasn’t. The views of outsiders were important – UK legislation had been judged insufficient by the OECD and brought up to date with the Bribery Act as a result. It is worth considering what features of others' legislation could be used in modernising one's own;
- Good legislation only works if it is properly enforced and if litigation is speedy;
- Effective enforcement included capable, impartially appointed judges, and good training for them;
- Deferred prosecution agreements, recently imported from the US into the UK, were worth considering. They enabled institutions to improve their governance in return for prosecution being deferred, but only with the agreement of a judge, and only for institutions, not for individuals;
- UK experience suggested that laws should be as simple as possible. Procedures should be streamlined;
- Corruption thrived in jurisdictions without term limits or a free press. Whistle blowers needed to be protected.
The Secretary General's keynote address included the following key points:
- International co-operation against corruption was necessary and possible – we needed to combine our efforts because the criminals were certainly capable of doing so. Differences between our law enforcement systems could be exploited by criminals. We needed to swim together rather than drown separately;
- The recent Commonwealth Trade Review had concluded that intra-Commonwealth trade enjoyed a 19% advantage through our common legal system, the English language etc. Corruption undermined the Commonwealth Advantage. We should use our innate sense of kinship and affinity, and the Common Law, to leverage real change in the Commonwealth;
- The Latimer House Principles of 2004 (on the separation of powers of parliament, the executive and the judiciary in Commonwealth member states) were a good example of how good ideas on co-operation can be developed;
- There would be a Commonwealth anti-corruption conference in London on 11 May before the Prime Minister's global conference on the same subject;
- The SG proposed to establish a Commonwealth Office of Civil and Criminal Justice Reform. She also proposed a kitemark against corruption for (government) procurement;
- The recent CHOGM had endorsed the Commonwealth's efforts against corruption and that good governance and respect for the law were vital for stable and prosperous societies;
- Corruption undermined democracy, and every pound/dollar lost to corruption was money that could have been spent on the alleviation of poverty.