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Criminalising Fraud: Victorian Responses to Company Scandals

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date10/2011
JournalCompany Lawyer
Journal number10
Volume32
Number of pages6
Pages291-296
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Few aspects of Victorian life are as under-researched and misunderstood as company fraud and its punishment. Influenced by Marxian concepts of social control, and more recently, by Foucauldian interest in disciplinary institutions, histories of crime in Britain are 'blue-collar' in focus. The few historians who have studied white-collar crime have argued that the state adopted a casual approach to fraud, with company directors and managers accused of wrongdoing rarely punished. This article argues that it is inaccurate to write off the Victorians as hypocrites, soft on white-collar criminals whilst subjecting petty thieves to terrifying punishments. It shows that there was a growing appetite for policing behaviour in the corporate economy by means of the criminal law, laying the foundations for today’s approach. It illustrates the shift in attitudes by contrasting the legal responses to two Victorian company frauds, one in the early 1840s and one in the late 1870s.