Lawyer eco group which sparked cab rank rule row pushes ahead with ‘declaration of conscience’

By on

Projects message on High Court

A group of eco-minded lawyers is pushing ahead with plans not to act for companies supporting new fossil fuel projects or to prosecute peaceful climate change protesters, despite the move attracting criticism from some sections of the legal profession.

Lawyers are Responsible today issued a “declaration of conscience” outside London’s Royal Courts of Justice as part of a peaceful demonstration led by psychoanalyst and author Anouchka Grose.

Legal Cheek reported over the weekend that 140 lawyers had signed the declaration which the group says is prompted by the legal profession’s “service of the fossil fuel industry”.

News of the letter late last week triggered a heated debate across social media, with some lawyers warning that the move would be in breach of the ‘cab rank rule’, a barrister’s professional obligation to represent everyone.

As part of today’s official launch, the group released a video of their message being projected onto the Royal Courts of Justice. You can watch the clip below.

Lawyers are Responsible features some big legal names including Jolyon Maugham KC, Professor Leslie Thomas KC and Paul Powlesland. You may recognise that last name from Legal Cheek’s recent coverage of his stand-off with Northamptonshire police during a protest against tree-felling.

Commenting on the launch, Jodie Blackstock, a barrister at Garden Court Chambers who has signed the declaration, commented:

“As a barrister committed to access to justice throughout my career, I have signed the Declaration because humanity has reached a point from which there is no return. Colleagues brokering these deals need to be aware of the consequences. The Rule of Law promotes and protects the rights of the marginalised. It is subverted when those causing the harm go unchallenged but those raising the alarm are criminalised.”

Further reading: Cab rank rule row rocks the Bar [Legal Cheek]

For all the latest commercial awareness info, news and careers advice:

Sign up to the Legal Cheek Newsletter



I would happily see these lawyers barred from practice. Lawyers are instructed to argue the law applied to a set of facts, whether they like the facts or the law. And it’s for lawyers, certainly barristers, to take cases as they are presented to them. The well-rehearsed reasons for the cab-rank rule are sound, and this public denouncement of the rule is harmful.

When I take a case, I may like or not like the client; I may think the law applied to the case is fair or unfair. The point is, no one knows what I think, and it does not matter, because I have to take the case. These lawyers, stating their position so publicly, are likely to cause viewpoints to be ascribed to lawyers who quietly carry on with their jobs. Will lawyers taking fossil fuel work be regarded as pro-fossil fuels/indifferent to climate change, because they have not shouted from the rooftops about their care for the environment? Quite possibly, and that is dangerous. Firstly because that may well not represent those lawyers’ views in any event. And, secondly, because destroys the illusion of lawyers being people who take cases irrespective of their own views.

If you are really that opposed to a type of work, or a particular viewpoint, then just quietly make sure you are unavailable when asked to take the work. Better still, if your views are that strong, go in to politics.



You are a fool!

So the law profession should not only stand by and watch humanity self-destruct but also facilitate it ! Remember law is part of humanity. Where is it written in stone that the Cab-Rank rule is God!!!!



Hear hear!

This 👆



Some people seem to misunderstand the cab rank rule. It doesn’t mean lawyers blindly do anything they are instructed to do by their client.

Lawyers are not permitted to do anything unethical even if the client wants to, for example.

Cab rank isn’t a blank cheque. There is little doubt that if the government introduced a law criminalising homosexuality, we could legitimately refuse to prosecute. If the government introduce a law criminalising being black we could refuse to prosecute.

Once we accept in principle that the cab rank rule isn’t absolute, then it’s just a question of individual conscience.


Uber driver

Are you an actual cabbie, rather than a lawyer?

“Lawyers are not permitted to do anything unethical even if the client wants to, for example.” What do you mean by “unethical”? Perhaps you are referring to the SRA Code and BSB Handbook. Neither are codes of ethics. The BSB Handbook “sets out the standards that the Bar Standards Board requires the persons it regulates to comply with in order for it to be able to meet its regulatory objectives.” (I3) The SRA Code “describes the standards of professionalism” expected of solicitors (Introduction). Relevant to this discussion, see rule 1.1 of the Code: “You do not unfairly discriminate by allowing your personal views to affect your professional relationships and the way in which you provide your services.”

“There is little doubt that if the government introduced a law criminalising homosexuality, we could legitimately refuse to prosecute.” “Legitimately”, perhaps (whatever that means), but likely not lawfully. That’s not how statutes work.


Just Anonymous

On the contrary. Until Parliament decriminalised homosexuality in the 1960s, it was the duty of any prosecutor to faithfully prosecute such individuals in accordance with the law.

I find that particular law repugnant. I am glad that it has been consigned to history. But the cab rank rule applies to any and all laws passed by our democratic system without exception. Your examples appear superficially persuasive, but only because it would (happily) now be completely impossible to pass such laws democratically – rather, they would have to be imposed by tyranny, and the cab rank rule does not apply to tyranny.

Your argument, if followed to its logical conclusion, gives barristers the right to refuse any instructions which seek to enforce laws that offend their personal conscience: be that lockdown restrictions, abortion, transgender laws, etc.

That is plainly completely contrary to the cab rank rule.

Now, if you want to argue that the cab rank rule is wrong and should be abolished or varied, then go ahead and make that argument. But do not pretend that your stance is compatible with the cab rank rule: it is not.



Where’s the ‘declaration of conscience’ when barristers have to spend £200 on ceremonial KC shoes they’ll wear once, when they have to represent Putin’s buddies in court or dodgy construction firms in Dubai that kill people?

GTFO and let someone else get up there and do the advocacy.



It would be very naive to think it is impossible for laws such as criminalising homosexuality or punishing a particular race to be impossible in a democracy.

As you said, homosexuality was only decriminalised in the 1960s. We did once criminalise homosexuality in a democracy. Nazi Germany is another obvious example of a democracy gone wrong.

Once you accept that democracy can lead to some dreadful laws, as history has shown time and time again, then you must accept that the cab rank should not be absolute.

If we had a democratically elected right wing government which passed a law criminalising homosexuality in the future, would you accept that a barrister could refuse to prosecute?


Just Anonymous










I tend to think some of the comments here miss the point.

While the cab rank rule may not always be precisely followed in practice, it is a principle that creates a useful illusion for practitioners, the illusion that they approach each case openly, without preconceived ideas about the facts, law, issues, client or any related politics.

The illusion is helpful because it presents practitioners as mere tools, a refined version of the client themselves that knows the law and how it applies to the facts. The practitioner comes with no ascribed political views and clients can at least feel that the practitioner has not actively decided to take or not take the case.

Sets that exclusively defend/prosecute/represent the government etc can (just about) be justified under the rule, because the rule applies to areas in which you are a specialist, and you can be specialist in just prosecution/defence etc. Plus, it just about retains the illusion of approaching cases openly and without prejudice: just because you specialise in acting for the government does not mean you necessarily agree with the government.

The real danger is this band of lawyers publicly declaring they will not take certain cases on political lines, because it has the potential to ascribe views to those quietly going about their work. For example, those taking fossil fuel work may be regarded as ignorant of climate change because they don’t shout about the environment from the rooftops. It damages the illusion and has the potential to lead directly to cases being publicly and openly accepted/not accepted because of the politics/clients involved. That is harmful to all as either some clients will struggle to find representation, or lawyers will be unfairly chastised for properly taking work.

The cab rank rule is perfectly imperfect. It is vital, even if flawed. It is perilous to attack it as the group of environmental lawyers currently are. If they feel that strongly, they can quietly ensure they are unavailable when called on for work that is objectionable to them. Or say they cannot remain professionally independent because their strong views have compromised them on the issue. They should do that instead of creating problems more generally for other practitioners and the rule itself.


Cynic of Counsel

So a bunch of largely non-entity lawyers signed a declaration that they won’t do any work for clients who wouldn’t instructed them in a million years. Whoopie do. In other news, I declare that I will never agree to play centre forward for Arsenal, even if they pay my commercial rates.

I suppose they have got everyone talking about the cab rank rule, which is quite the achievement.


Comments are closed.

Related Stories