The financial crisis provides a ‘golden opportunity for zealous prosecutors’ in the UK to bring proceedings across a broader range of activities, according to a leading criminal silk.

Speaking at the International Association of Defence Counsel’s conference in Paris, Richard Lissack QC of London’s Outer Temple Chambers said there was a ‘hunger for extending the reach of criminal law into commercial life and into the lives of those in commerce’.

He said this was demonstrated by the increased regulatory activity of the state, for example the introduction of the Corporate Manslaughter Act 2007, amending health and safety laws to imprison directors who have breached them, and prosecutions for insider dealing.

‘Historically there has been a reluctance in English criminal law to involve itself in commerce. A few years ago if you’d said the criminal law would intervene in share dealings between private individuals, people would have laughed… [But now] the mood music is hostile to businesses and those who run them. It seems that the hunger for someone always to be held to account is ­unassuaged.’

Tony Parton, forensic accounting partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said: ‘The UK’s relatively light-touch regulatory environment has cut companies a fair bit of slack in the recent past, but this is changing. Enforcement agencies feel they have a new mandate for prosecution.’