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Business Comment

James Moore: The laws that let the bad guys get away with it

Outlook Watch out bankers! The European Parliament's coming for you.

Yesterday, MEPs approved EU-wide criminal sanctions with a minimum jail term of four years for those involved in insider dealing and market manipulation across the EU. Here's the problem: the law voted into force yesterday doesn't apply in the UK, which along with Denmark has an opt-out on matters relating to justice and home affairs, and the UK is where the majority of traders who might get caught by it ply their trade.

Tory MEPs voted in favour of the measure – but not doing so would have handed a gift to their opponents, who would have portrayed them as going soft on bad bankers. The vote had no impact back home so there was nothing for them to lose in saying aye.

But even were the UK Government to accept the proposals, the wider issue with laws like this – beyond shutting stable doors after horses have bolted – is that they only catch the patsies. This sort of scandalous misconduct doesn't happen in a vacuum. It has been encouraged by banks' remuneration and hiring policies and the cultures fostered by those at the top. Yet none of them has been charged with anything, and that doesn't look like changing any time soon, regardless of laws like this.