Supreme Court embargo-breaking barrister sparks misconduct debate among fellow lawyers

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By CJ McKinney on

Eco-barrister Tim Crosland branded a ‘fanatic’ after deliberately leaking Heathrow ruling

Lawyers are pondering the likely fate of a barrister who deliberately leaked the result of a major Supreme Court ruling.

Tim Crosland, a barrister and director of environmental group Plan B, has been labelled a “fanatic” after breaking the embargo on a draft judgment in favour of Heathrow airport as a calculated act of protest.

Legal blogging kingpin Matthew Scott says Crosland “should never work as a barrister again” unless he apologises, although academic Richard Moorhead reckons the authorities may go easy on the environmental campaigner.

The case is about whether the government’s decision to sign off a third runway at Heathrow Airport was legal. Earlier this year, the Court of Appeal found that a failure to factor in the Paris climate change agreement was “legally fatal” to the decision.

But Heathrow didn’t give up, and the Supreme Court has now overturned the runway-blocking ruling on four different grounds of appeal. While the legal issues were far removed from the rights and wrongs of building the runway, furious environmentalists accused the Supremes of “treason”.

The judgment was handed down on Wednesday morning. But Crosland had an advance copy as one of the parties to the case — and decided to leak it on Tuesday as “an act of civil disobedience”.

“Tomorrow”, Crosland wrote, “the Supreme Court will overturn the Court of Appeal’s judgement in Heathrow’s favour and rule that [the government] acted lawfully”.

The eco-barrister said the leak would be treated as contempt of court but he was “ready to face the consequences”, adding “I have no choice but to protest the deep immorality of the Court’s ruling”.

The leak prompted a strong reaction, with fellow lawyers queueing up to slate Crosland’s call.

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Scott, who writes as BarristerBlogger, accused Crosland of “preening self-righteousness”.

Crosland “could not be trusted”, Scott wrote, and “lawyers who cannot be trusted are a menace”.

The Supreme Court released a statement pointing out that “to publish any part of the judgment, including the outcome, before it is handed down may constitute contempt of court”. It said it would be referring the matter to the Attorney General, who makes decisions about whether to launch contempt of court proceedings, as well as complaining to the Bar Standards Board.

Scott said that if Crosland “continues to grandstand and behave as though the ordinary rules of professional conduct do not apply to him because of the purity of his ideals I very much hope it [the BSB] will ensure that he is never able to work as, or call himself, a barrister again”.

But Richard Moorhead, a professor of law and ethics at Exeter Uni, reckons the regulator may deny Crosland his “martrydom”. The boffin wrote:

His statement is an attempt to play for martyrdom by breaching sensible rules and for rather modest gain to his cause; the outcome for him will be similarly prosaic. A fine, or suspension perhaps…

Crosland’s stand also attracted support. Declan Owens from the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers tweeted his “absolute solidarity”, while solicitor-advocate Myles Jackman said “give us a shout if you need pro bono protest advice”.

Oxford grad Crosland worked on cyber law at the National Crime Agency before taking over at Plan B five years ago. He doesn’t seem to be on the register of practising barristers, but did address the Supreme Court during the Heathrow case.

The Supreme Court said that the decision of whether to do Crosland for contempt of court was up to the Attorney General, Suella Braverman. The Conservative lawyer-minister has a lot on her plate: yesterday she received a serious shoeing from the Court of Appeal for advancing “unusual” and “regrettable” arguments.

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