Mark Rainsford QC has been interviewed in the Evening Standard:
Company directors could face financially crippling legal action if their firms fall foul of the new Bribery Act, a leading London lawyer warned today.
Mark Rainsford QC, who specialises in cases involving corporate wrong-doing, said investors were likely to sue directors for their personal wealth if a company was charged under the new law and the firm's share values fell sharply as a result.
Mr Rainsford said the threat of such cases, which are already being brought in America, was heightened by "strict liability" provisions in the legislation, which make businesses responsible for the activities of their agents and partners overseas.
It means that any firm that fails to take adequate precautions to prevent corruption could be charged with a criminal offence, even if they had no knowledge of their agent's action.
The warning follows earlier complaints from business leaders about the impact of the Bribery Act on their ability to compete overseas against international rivals subject to less stringent regulations.
Mr Rainsford, a barrister at 33 Chancery Lane chambers, said the result would be to deter companies from doing business in developing countries where "facilitation payments" were common and where it was harder to exert control over local staff. "The Bribery Act will bring in the strictest regime in the world and will put our companies on an uneven playing field," he said.
"Directors will have to ensure that they do not tolerate unacceptable conduct within their own organisation and also put in place procedures to vet business partners.
"The problem is that in emerging economies and the developing world, where it might be difficult and expensive to do that, some big employers will think the risk is too great and decide to pull out. That will be bad for Britain." The main concern is that generous corporate hospitality could be classed as bribery. Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has responded by delaying implementation of the legislation and promising to introduce guidelines to make clear that "ordinary hospitality" will not lead to charges.
Mr Rainsford said: "They are trying to terrify companies into complying.
"We are already seeing cases in the US where pension funds are suing directors when share values have fallen because of criminal wrongdoing - and where America goes, we tend to follow. This is very draconian legislation."