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Corporate Hospitality – Making Clients Offers They Might Refuse

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The usual summer season of corporate hospitality sporting events is in full swing. Rupert Wright, a corporate services lawyer with Charles Lucas & Marshall, explains why legislation may be prompting some companies to think twice about accepting an invitation.

Rupert Wright

Rupert Wright

As well as Ascot, Wimbledon and Henley, the season of corporate entertainment has a major addition this year with the London Olympics. For companies looking to build relations with clients and suppliers in an effort to retain or secure new business, these events can present useful opportunities.

However, the introduction of the Bribery Act 2010 (the ‘Act’) in July last year has meant that companies which offer corporate entertainment to their clients now have additional factors to consider.

The Act contains an offence which is relevant to provision of corporate hospitality by companies, namely that of offering a bribe to an individual in the private sector, or to a UK public official.

The bribery offence applies in two cases: first, where a person intends the advantage to bring about improper performance by another or to reward such improper performance. Second, where a person knows or believes that the acceptance of the advantage offered or promised, itself, constitutes the improper performance of a relevant function or activity.

The law refers to the provision of a ‘financial or other advantage’; a gift or an invitation to a sporting event could, potentially, be caught by both of these categories.

The Ministry of Justice has provided a guidance note on the Act. It recognises the important role that hospitality plays in business and states that there is no wish to criminalise such behaviour.

The difference between legitimate corporate hospitality which is lawful and an unlawful attempt to bribe someone lies in the intention of the provider/giver to influence and secure a business advantage. The intention of a person is judged by what a reasonable person in the UK thought.

The guidance note states that the ‘more lavish the hospitality or the higher the expenditure…the greater the inference that is intended to influence a business advantage in return’. In its view, an invitation to foreign clients to attend a Six Nations fixture at Twickenham as part of a company’s PR programme and targeting its clients would be extremely unlikely to constitute an offence under the Act. This is because there is unlikely to be the required evidence of an intention to induce ‘improper performance’.

So, hospitality which is reasonable and proportionate to what is generally accepted as normal by an industry sector and achieves a ‘legitimate business purpose’ is therefore unlikely to fall foul of the Act.

New laws often bring uncertainty for those affected by them – notwithstanding the comforting words of the Ministry’s guidance note. It might therefore not surprise you to hear that some companies have erred on the side of caution by trimming hospitality packages – and have found some clients who are now reluctant to accept offers of hospitality they would previously have taken up without further thought.

For further information contact Rupert Wright on 01635 521212 or rupert.wright@clmlaw.co.uk

Written by Rupert Wright

June 26th, 2012 at 10:16 am