Why are there so few domestic cases of corruption in the UK?

Domestic corruption in the UK is increasingly at the forefront of national discussion yet simultaneously, investigation and criminal prosecution of corruption cases seems scant. In his forthcoming working paper, Former New Scotland Yard Detective Superintendent Tristram Hicks examines the UK’s investigative and prosecutorial framework and argues that at present we are largely in the dark about the scale of the problem of domestic corruption.

This paper seeks to understand why there are so few criminal prosecutions of domestic corruption in the UK. It examines how corruption casework begins and how information is received, collated, and investigated by public sector investigative agencies. The UK Government’s Anti-Corruption Strategy 2017-2022 exists on paper and a large number of investigative agencies that could be engaged against corruption also exist. The paper identifies potential agencies that could be involved and their capacity to address the issue is discussed. The paper finds, however that although internal corruption within agencies attracts significant attention, domestic corruption elsewhere does not. Hardly any agencies have corruption in the UK as a stated priority and dedicated resources are hard to identify.

How corruption cases are initiated, recorded and prosecuted is set out and it is shown that the system is stacked against the existence of corruption casework at every stage. Corruption cases are conflated with fraud and other crimes at the investigation stage and corruption is dropped altogether at the prosecution level. Definitions, prioritisation and accountability relating to domestic corruption casework are all unclear and the progress of cases is actively discouraged by high authorisation thresholds and a preference for addressing corruption overseas ahead of corruption at home.

Evidence that domestic corruption does exist in the UK is discussed with reference to previous studies and an increasing number of press reports that refer to corruption. The paper concludes that it is possible that there is a large amount of domestic corruption, but that it is currently unquantified and effectively unquantifiable.

The paper suggests that UK agencies are very capable of changing tack and provides a recent example of a strategic change of direction that demonstrates that ability. Overall, the absence of corruption casework is caused not by an absence of corruption but by a complex series of factors which amount to a systematic suppression of recorded activity against corruption.

Domestic corruption is simply not on the criminal justice agenda. If people think that it should be, they need to recognise that the challenge runs far deeper than merely announcing political will. The UK would need to devote significant resources to define and measure domestic corruption, and implement a significant and well-maintained change programme throughout its investigative agencies. Having identified corruption through the investigative process the casework could then be prosecuted. To achieve this, another change programme would be need to be implemented by the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts.

Please visit www.sussex.ac.uk/research/centres/centre-for-study-of-corruption/research to access this Working Paper as well as previous Working Papers published by the Centre for the Study of Corruption.

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  1. […] argument was too long for a blog and I am delighted that they promoted it to “Working Paper”. Here it is, I hope that you like […]

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