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Carolyn Snell and Sarah Brooks-Wilson

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Suze Wilson and Sarah Proctor-Thomson

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T.T. Arvind, Joanna Gray and Sarah Wilson

This chapter compares the UK’s response to mid-nineteenth-century banking failures and the post-2008 banking crisis. Our focus is on the official narratives of cause and effect that emerged in the aftermath of each crisis, and the thrust and direction of the measures taken by regulators and courts in the response to each crisis. We argue that contrary to the standard understanding, official responses to financial instability during the Victorian crises reveal the same concern with systemic issues and systemic stability as responses to the post-2008 crisis. Official reviews, case law, and administrative decisions during the Victorian period – and particularly the 1850s – show a clear understanding of and concern about systemic risk and contagion, and of the importance of bolstering the system through the quality and character of management within individual institutions. Despite the similarity of the Victorian and modern understandings, however, the Victorians framed very different prophylactic institutional reforms to curb the likelihood of future systemic shocks. We juxtapose the differing responses to episodes of financial crisis and failure, which are so distant in time and yet demonstrate remarkably similar demands both for accountability at law for the past and for law to help ensure a safer future, and argue that there is sound reason to play close attention to the lessons the Victorian approach might have to offer.