Update on the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill
This month saw the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill debated in the Lords for it’s Second Reading. The bill introduces new powers for Companies House, tightens up rules for Limited Partnerships and introduces new intelligence gathering powers for law enforcement. It is a follow up to similar reforms last year in response to the war in Ukraine, and fears that for too long London is the destination of choice for dirty money from corrupt Governments around the world.
Whistleblowing featured heavily in the debate with many speakers highlighting the vital role whistleblowers play in bringing vital intelligence to the authorities about economic crime, yet too often they ignored and retaliated against for coming forward.
For the Opposition, Lord Ponsonby said Labour supported for the Government’s bill, welcoming the government’s intention to introduce further measures on corporate criminal liability but said the approach was too vague and proposals were too far down the line going. He also drew attention to the lack of “a clear strategy to recoup assets seized though economic crime enforcement”.
Peers highlighted whistleblowing policies ideas such as an office of the whistleblower, a sort of super-regulator for whistleblowers, which is absent from the bill and looks unlikely to feature in the final bill. An amendment to create a failure to prevent economic crime, applying to both organisations and enablers (e.g., lawyers, accountants etc.) has a better chance of being made into law. It was promised as an amendment in the House of Lords by the Government when the bill was debated in the House of Commons. Though this change is currently absent from the bill, the Government in this debate reaffirmed their commitment.
Creating a preventing offence would be a positive, proactive step punishing organisations and enablers where they do not do enough to take action when they come across fraud, corruption or other economic crime among their clients. We would like to see the offence adopt a defence where organisations can show they put reasonable steps to prevent victimization by having an effective internal whistleblowing system. This should be more than just a whistleblowing policy, but include processes for responding promptly to concerns, training for managers and a board level review process of the effectiveness of the system itself.