27th June 2021

Having set out what the Daniel Morgan independent panel meant by ‘institutional corruption’ in my last post, and having done a Financial Times video on how the panel applied that definition to the metropolitan police, the obvious next questions is whether any other public bodies would also come within this definition.

Or is it a term that can only apply to the metropolitan police in respect of specific matter over a specific period?

If the term ‘institutional corruption’ is to have any import, it must presumably be capable of being applied to other institutions and in respect of other corruption.


To remind ourselves, this is how the panel defined corruption in its report:

‘The Panel has adopted a broad definition of corruption for the purposes of its work.

‘The definition below is based on the key elements of dishonesty and benefit, and allows for the involvement of a variety of actors and a variety of forms of benefit:

‘The improper behaviour by action or omission:

‘i. by a person or persons in a position of power or exercising powers, such as police officers;

‘ii. acting individually or collectively;

‘iii. with or without the involvement of other actors who are not in a position of power or exercising powers; for direct or indirect benefit :

‘iv. of the individual(s) involved; or

‘v. for a cause or organisation valued by them; or

‘vi. for the benefit or detriment of others; such that a reasonable person would not expect the powers to be exercised for the purpose of achieving that benefit or detriment.


More succinctly, the test for corruption can be set out in four stages:

(1) WHAT – acts and/or omissions constituting the improper behaviour;

(2) WHO – by a person or persons in a position of power or exercising powers (and this may involve other people too);

(3) WHY – for the direct or indirect benefit of the person(s), their organisation or other people; and

(4) REASONABLENESS – a reasonable person would not expect that WHAT to be done(or not done) by WHO for that WHY reason.


The panel saw the following failings by senior managers as fulfilling the WHAT + WHO + WHY + UNREASONABLE requirements:

‘i. failing to identify corruption;

‘ii. failing to confront corruption;

‘iii. failing to manage investigations and ensure proper oversight; 

‘iv. failing to take a fresh look at past mistakes and failures; 

‘v. failing to learn from past mistakes and failures;

‘vi. failing to admit past mistakes and failures promptly and specifically;

‘vii. giving unjustified assurances;

‘viii. failing to make a voluntarily commitment to candour; and ix. failing to be open and transparent.’


Such corruption would be ‘institutional corruption’ according to the panel as follows:

‘when […] failures cannot reasonably be explained as genuine error and indicate dishonesty for the benefit of the organisation, in the Panel’s view they amount to institutional corruption”

The key term here is ‘dishonesty for the benefit of the organisation’.

Accordingly the full test for ‘institutional corruption’ appears to be:



The recent scandal of the post office prosecutions comes to mind as another situation that would meet this definition – especially the knowing non-disclosure and attempts to mislead the court.

The panel themselves mentioned ‘the report of the mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Public Inquiry, the report by Mark Ellison QC on his review concerning the Stephen Lawrence investigation, the report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel and the subsequent report by the Right Reverend James Jones KCB, the report of the Gosport Independent Panel, and the work of the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire.’

And I am sure some of you can think of others.


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  1. I find it difficult not to ponder the Post Office prosescutions scandal in the light of the Daniel Morgan Inquiry.

    Perhaps partly because both seem to point to the tolerance of injustice on a scale hard to match in modern UK history, and strong light has been shone on both epic failures within a short space of time. Perhaps because in the PO case, it seems a wide range of people may have been knowingly complicit in unjust actions.

    I’d be very interested to see you do a compare and contrast exercise, and in both cases there seem to be obvious ‘what happens next?’ questions to be asked, not least since named individuals, in both scenarios, having clear responsibility to maintain justice, seem not to be facing any formal consequences.

    Who could / should act, looking at existing officers / agencies of the state, and do these two cases together help us identify what changes we need to see? Helpful models from other countries?

  2. Potentially a number of NHS trusts. Despite the duty of candour. See for example the case of Connor Sparrowhawk and the many other horrific failures of Southern Healthcare, maternity care failures at Morecombe Bay Trust; the death of Richard Handley and failures of Suffolk Mental Health Partnership. Inquest has information about many such failings and attempted cover ups (https://www.inquest.org.uk/)

  3. There is an omerta that exists within many institutions to enable those who do dirty work to escape responsibility for their actions. I first recognised it when working within a compliance function for an insurance company in the 1990’s where the entire business model defied any definition of ‘best advice’ for the consumer and everyone knew that.
    I recognise it in the suppression of evidence that has neutered public inquiries and the closing of ranks that has provided cover for murders by members of our armed forces.
    The one unifying factor of institutional corruption is that it appears to be pretty well everywhere. Even in government.

  4. On this definition of institutional corruption, I suspect large parts of the civil service and most government departments would count. I would be very interested to see an analysis of the Home Office and its repeated violations of the rights of immigrants and asylum seekers in light of this definition. In particular I’m thinking of the way the Home Office often loses in court, grudgingly accepts the court ruling as applied to that individual litigant, but continues doing the illegal action to others. For example: DNA testing children instead of accepting birth certificates; putting asylum seekers in unacceptable accommodation; deporting people without giving adequate access to lawyers… And civil servants and ministers never seem to suffer any consequences for their misdeeds.

    Outside central government, would tfl or members of be institutionally corrupt for concealing the problems with Crossrail? As I recall, it was being officially described as on time and on budget until just a few months before they admitted to problems that now amount to multi-year delays and a massive budget overrun. Someone was either extremely incompetent or deliberately concealing the bad news. Again, I’m not aware that any individual has suffered any consequences.

  5. Yes, those cases are all well described as institutional corruption. But didn’t this definition cast the net incredibly wide?

    For an organisation to be ‘institutionally corrupt’ isn’t there some kind of severity and/or pervasiveness required?

    For instance, our local primary school head (who) used it’s funds (and act within its powers and, to some, unreasonable) to buy every pupil a special meal on ‘census day’ to make sure they all turned up and improve their funding allocation (institutional benefit). But calling them institutionally corrupt seems to cheapen the term a bit

  6. Very interesting but it does not tell us whodunnit. Then the MET’s boss can say its all OK now, and the MET’s legal team will declare ‘a different interpretation of the facts’ as they do.

    The difficulty I see is getting this worthy report built in to the rules and procedures. A duty of candour would be a wonderful thing. But comes at a cost, throwing one’s staff to the wolves takes very well developed HR skills.

  7. We see this going on everywhere but I think the best place to start is the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO). This organisation is supposed to be the final arbiter of complaints made against the NHS and Government Departments. It is a failure and ministers know it is. I have been a contributor to a group PHSOtheFacts for several years, since I identified shortcomings in the PHSO investigation of my own complaint made in 2014. It was only when I accessed PHSOtheFacts that I realised the investigative failures were systemic and meet what we now have as a definition of “Institutional Corruption”.

    PHSOtheFacts has raised legitimate questions about PHSO directly, through various members of parliament and also the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC). PHSO is unfit for purpose now as when it was identified as such by the Patients Association in 2015. The Ombudsman refuses to answer direct and pertinent questions raised in the public interest. You only have to check out the numerous blogs on PHSOthetruestory to see the evidence as to how PHSO operates.

    Well done David Allen Green. Please carry on the good work. PHSO cuts across the whole of health and government, yet Michael Gove (Cabinet Office) has declared there are no plans for Ombudsman reform up to and including 2023-24. I wonder why! It should now be the first port of call for an independent enquiry.

  8. This seems to cover all ‘watching their back’, ‘cover-up’, or ‘closing ranks’ to protect the organisation or individuals against legitimate complaints by the injured or aggreived. Write a list: medics, charities, the media, lawyers… You’ll need a very long sheet of paper!

  9. This concept is a really valuable outcome of this review and I’m grateful you wrote a dedicated post about it.

    I think for me what is most useful about this idea is that it doesn’t require an explicit conspiracy. No one sat in darkened rooms to decide how to squash an investigation; it was part of a mindset within the organisation. The impact was effectively cooperative; multiple points of bad behaviour, distributed over several levels of seniority, undermined individual good.

    As this definition stands it gives a name to this class of problem without requiring the higher standard of evidence for conspiracy and as such gives us a way to identify it and challenge it.

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