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

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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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16 Comments

Alan Robertshaw

This is something the courts take very seriously. See here for an example:

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/806.html

Whilst I’m all for campaigning and using the law for social justice issues; I’m not sure what he gained from breaching the embargo. He could have made exactly the same point once the perfected judgment had been sealed and handed down. It’s not like the ruling would have been a secret.

There are very valid reasons for embargoing judgments. The drafts are sent to us so we can check for (technical) errors, and also draft draft (sic) orders to reflect the findings.

They’re also handy for letting us know if we need to make consequential applications, such as dealing with costs.

But until they are sealed, they are still drafts; and whilst no amount of emails to the judge is likely to change any substantive rulings; they don’t yet reflect the actual final decision of the court.

I admire his commitment to his chosen cause; but this does seem a strange choice of hill to die on.

(42)(0)

Young Garrick Member

Utterly ridiculous. I’m entirely in agreement that he should never be allowed to work as a barrister again.

(13)(4)

Scouser of Counsel

Contempt of court, surely?

As counsel we are expected to be impartial and owe an over-riding duty to the court.

(17)(1)

Anon

tee-hee

(0)(3)

Anon

Campaigning fundamentalists and leftists are such a challenge to the proper conduct of courts. Very firm action needs to be taken!

(19)(7)

Hackaforte

What kind of a half-@rsed rebellion rails against treason?

(1)(0)

Banjo

He is not the first barrister or party to have passionately disagreed with a decision made against him. What makes him think his position is so special? The judgment wasn’t even on the merits of the expansion, FFS. The same point could have been made a day later (and was made by many others when judgment was handed down), but of course if he had waited he would lose the chance for his unique spotlight. The arrogance is mind-boggling.

(23)(1)

Neville the Leftie

But when people are just plain WRONG it doesn’t matter if a Court judgment or referendum result or election result is against you, you have to tell everyone!

(3)(9)

Hackaforte

Judicial decisions are based on the law, not ‘morality’.

He can’t have been much cop as a barrister if he didn’t even grasp that.

(9)(1)

Anon

Because morals never ever influence a decision of the higher courts… No siree it’s all black letter law from dusty old books, not a single hint of anything else.

Not just the higher courts either, even the County Court hacks understand this, as the Deputy District Judge makes it up as he goes along, in order to do what he thinks is ‘just’.

(1)(0)

A barrister

Is he even a barrister? Can’t find a Tim Crosland on the register.

(2)(0)

Bob

I have no respect for a barrister who is not independent from their client and any “cause”. If he wants to be a politician or activist he is free to engage in those callings. He cannot be a politician or activist contrary to his obligations to the Court.

(8)(0)

Anon

lol

(0)(1)

Anon

What a load of nonsense.

As a barrister you discharge your obligations to individual clients, and the court, professionally.

Beyond that, you can have an opinion on whatever you like, publicly or privately.

Unless you are assuming that no barrister should ever go on a march, be it for a second EU referendum or against a war. Or that no barrister should ever go to a meeting of a political party. Or write a comment piece for a newspaper. Or leave a comment on an internet messageboard.

Remove that stick, pronto!

(0)(0)

Anonymous

What really is crap is Boris is going to pull the third runway anyway, when the nation needs it more than ever.

(2)(0)

Anon

Love it when lawyers (particularly barristers) get all sanctimonious about ethical rule breaches.

I’m not saying they are all wrong (although their are certainly different degrees of ‘correctness’, especially looking at the posts above). Just pointing out that everyone else round the dinner table slowly rolls their eyes and tries to change the topic of conversation when barristers get on their soap box.

We don’t need to be a profession of bores btw, it’s a conscious choice and particularly prevalent among London based lawyers.

(2)(27)

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