Threat of Riker's Island jail might reform the City

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The Independent Online

Part of the problem with British banking is that the regulators simply aren't feared in the City

Justice was severe and even relatively swift for those who set light to the streets of London and other British cities last summer. In contrast, those who burned the British economy and the financial markets, by reckless gambling or by trying to rig the decks (by fixing interest rates) while trading for Barclays, are likely to escape a similar fate if things go to form.

The Serious Fraud Office has been called in. But its record in securing convictions is mixed even if its lawyers and accountants feel that there are cases that can be effectively pursued against the Barclays traders.

Which leaves the Financial Services Authority, and its successor, the Financial Conduct Authority. After cases have spent a lengthy time in the long grass, they might get round to handing out bans, fines too, on account of the traders having breached its principles. But there's no certainty.

Just about the only person to face any sanction for the banks' near collapse during the financial crisis was poor old Johnny Cameron at Royal Bank of Scotland.

And Mr Cameron, who has proved to be a shade more reflective than his peers in conversations I have had with him, is a rarity: he agreed to the sanction when most would have fought it. As I would expect those traders are preparing to do.

Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, has been calling for a public inquiry into the banking industry. A more appropriate line of attack would be to demand a thorough review of the legal framework around this sort of white collar... wrongdoing.

The Government has promised an independent review to see if its upcoming financial regulation Bill needs amending. Does anyone really believe a few amendments will do anything to prevent a repeat of this sorry affair?

Part of the problem with British banking is that the regulators simply aren't feared. They are looked upon as "stupid" by City folk who spend their time dreaming up ways to get around them in the knowledge that, if they do get caught with their pants down, the sanctions they face will be limited and they'll get paid off.

They snigger when they look at their American colleagues, who, when they commit similar deeds, are hauled off to Riker's Island jail.

Ah yes, the Americans are involved in this little affair too, and they've proved very willing to extend their legal system overseas when the mood takes them, making use of a certain lop-sided extradition treaty. Remember the so-called NatWest three? And the furore that accompanied America's use of the treaty to reel them in?

All of a sudden we may find ourselves thankful for those arrangements. US capitalism might be red in tooth and claw, but so is the system that polices it – as Barclays' traders may learn to their cost.

Sadly, ours remains, well, just a light touch.