Chris Blackhurst: It’s right that we get tough on economic crime, but we've a lot of catching up to do

Midweek View: In its annual performance report for 2013/4, the UK Financial Conduct Authority disclosed how many prosecutions it had brought in the year for market abuse: one

For the last 30 years, give or take, I’ve been a dutiful attender at the Cambridge International Symposium on Economic Crime.

Now in its 32nd year, the conference is held in the first week of September at Jesus College. I started going because I was lectured in law by the founder, Professor Barry Rider, and we stayed in touch.

Rider stood out among the law dons for me because he managed to make the subject seem real, and therefore interesting. While I was having to attend dry discourses on English legal history or land law and trusts, Rider was teaching company law, and in particular, I remember, insider trading.

Other – snootier – academics mocked him, saying he was far too “commercially oriented”, that some of the aspects he dwelt upon were not worthy of serious intellectual study. One notion occupied them, which was that insider dealing was not really a crime at all, and it had no victim.

Evidence for their argument came from the fact it had only just become an offence in the UK – until 1980, insider trading was perfectly legal.

Rider chose to differ, and regaled us with dark tales of City syndicates profiting from privileged information. The contrast with the US, where insider trading had effectively been barred since 1909, and outlawed by statute since 1934, could not be more marked.

When it came to holding his Symposium that comparison was again highlighted. The first few gatherings were small, attended by only 50 or so law enforcers, fraud investigators and law makers. By far, the ones with the most to say were the Americans. They came en masse from the Justice Department and the New York District Attorney’s office.

They were in a different league from their UK counterparts. Hard-talking, confident, loving the pursuit of felons, they spoke knowledgably of the Mob, of Ponzi schemes and boiler rooms.

Down the years, the conference has grown in size. This year, more than 1,000 delegates from all over the globe will make the trip. Gradually, too, the British presence has increased. So too is the importance attached to the Symposium by the authorities. On Monday night, at the opening dinner, both the Attorney-General, Jeremy Wright, and director of the Serious Fraud Office, David Green, were seated at the top table.

Yesterday morning, Wright and Green made speeches underlining their determination to crack down on fraud. Wright said the Government was considering a new offence, of corporate failure to prevent an economic crime. It would follow similar lines to the crime of failing to prevent bribery in the Bribery Act.

The tough bit of that for any company, apart from the unlimited fine, is that the Bribery Act offence is one of strict liability – so in the case of economic crime a company would be required to prove it had done everything it could to prevent the scam from occurring.

Green highlighted the role of lawyers in trying to block SFO cases. While I do not question the sincerity of Wright and Green, and there’s no doubt that the attitude on high has become firmer, thanks to numerous banking scandals and the need to cut off the funding of terrorists, I do wonder about the British Establishment.

Will it really have shifted so radically in its view from that expressed against Rider? Too many of the products of our supposedly finest schools, it seems to me, are engaged in the sort of work that Green is decrying: advising companies and wealthy individuals on how to avoid getting caught and successfully prosecuted. If only more of them, as in the US, chose to go to the other side.

Even then, I’d still require convincing. We don’t bring enough cases, and when we do, progress is painfully slow (mostly because it’s hampered by the target’s legal team).

On its website, the US Securities and Exchange Commission says that “in recent years the SEC has filed insider trading cases against hundreds of entities and individuals, including financial professionals, hedge fund managers, corporate insiders, attorneys, and others whose illegal tipping or trading has undermined the level playing field that is fundamental to the integrity and fair functioning of the capital markets.”

In its annual performance report for 2013/4, published in July, the UK Financial Conduct Authority disclosed how many prosecutions it had brought in the year for market abuse: one.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
people70-year-old was most famous for 'You are So Beautiful'
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballLatest score and Twitter updates
Arts and Entertainment
David Hasselhof in Peter Pan
The US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
tech
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operations Manager

£43500 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operatio...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - LONDON

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000 + Car + Pension: SThree: SThree are a ...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K: SThree: We consistently strive to be the...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'