Eco-barristers’ sinister attack on the sacred cab-rank rule

– March 28, 2023

A GROUP of 120 ‘prominent’ barristers, solicitors and academics have signed a ‘declaration of conscience’ ahead of ‘The Big One’ – four days of demonstrations outside Parliament next month protesting about the ‘climate crisis’. They say they will refuse to represent ‘fossil fuel’ companies or prosecute climate change protesters.

Few care what academic lawyers, who have never been near a court or had a client, say about anything, and solicitors have no duty to act for anybody if they don’t want to. But when a bunch of barristers dares publicly to challenge the centuries-old ‘cab-rank’ rule on the pretext of saving the planet, things are getting serious. For, make no mistake, our liberty under the law depends on the rule that a barrister cannot refuse to act in a case within his competence, no matter who the client is or what he thinks of him. The Bar Code of Conduct is clear: if a barrister is instructed within his area of practice he must accept the instructions irrespective of ‘the identity of the client, the nature of the case and any belief or opinion he may have formed as to the character, reputation, cause, conduct, guilt or innocence of the client’. Last week, in an address in Temple Church, the Chairman of the Bar, Nick Vineall KC, emphasised ‘it’s for judges and juries to decide who is right or wrong, not barristers’.

The dissident group is organised by environmental campaigner and disbarred barrister Tim Crosland through his ‘charity’ Plan B Earth. It is supported by The Good Law Project founded by tax barrister Jolyon Maugham KC. Extinction Rebellion, Just Stop Oil and other eco-protesters are all on board, parroting the same message: burning gas and oil needs to stop if we are not to see all life on earth extinguished.

The ‘climate emergency’ is so grave that it warrants doing almost anything to confront it, even, according to Extinction Rebellion, achieving ‘permanent economic recession’, combined with a ‘plant-based future’, ‘rewilding’ of farmland and banning animal farming and fishing. They block roads, throw soup at works of art, spray paint on buildings occupied by any institution they dislike and generally make a nuisance of themselves.

So pervasive is this climate change narrative that it has seeped into and corrupted almost every part of our body politic. Even the press seem about to appease the climate cultists in the face of threats and even physical attacks on their property.

When I started in practice at the Bar I acted for some pretty unsavoury characters, from wife-beaters to fraudsters to child abusers. Briefs would come in to chambers, tied in pink or white ribbon depending on whether you were defending or prosecuting. On most days I was expected to go across the road to court for a 10am conference with the solicitor and client. There was never any suggestion that I would refuse the instructions. If I was available I would act and try to do my best for whomsoever the client happened to be. It didn’t occur to me to consider whether or not I ‘liked’ my client, any more than a surgeon would consider whether or not to operate depending on the patient’s political opinions. Nor did I have to approve of the defence I was expected to argue; I would simply put my client’s case in the best light I could. A professional advocate is a mouthpiece for his client. And most important, our English rule of law rests on a robust adversarial system with counsel being available and willing to represent both sides of a case.

But apparently the ‘climate emergency’ overrides all this. We are already seeing magistrates and judges almost weeping as they are forced by the law to impose even the slightest penalty on climate protesters for clear criminal acts.

Now Jolyon Maugham and his attention-seeking co-declarants have pledged to ignore the cab-rank rule by refusing to prosecute their ‘brave friends protesting against the destruction of the planet, [whom] the law wrongly criminalises’ or to act for those involved in new fossil fuel projects. The Good Law Project – an Orwellian inversion of language if there ever was one – believes ‘lawyers should be allowed to stand up for the planet’ above everything else. Maugham describes the cab rank rule as ‘a beautiful idea’ . . . ‘bound up with the idea that the law is right . . . but the law is not always right. Sometimes the law is wrong. What it stands for is the opposite of justice.’ 

He then uses the favourite tactic of leftie activists, equating lawful activities – burning oil and gas and farming – with crimes of the past. ‘Today’s history books speak with horror about what the law of yesterday did, of how it permitted racism, rape and murder. And tomorrow’s history books will say the same about the law as it stands today, of how it enabled the destruction of our planet and the displacement of billions of people . . .

‘We should not be forced to work for the law’s wrongful ends by helping deliver new fossil fuel projects. We should not be forced to prosecute our brave friends whose conduct, protesting against the destruction of the planet, the law wrongly criminalises. That is a beautiful idea, too.’

So there you have it. Eco-activist barristers will decide which laws are right. Do not be deceived, these people are scoundrels, green on the outside but Marxist red on the inside. The cleverer ones who run the show probably don’t care a fig about climate change. If they’re really clever (and some of them are) they will know exactly what they’re doing and privately scorn the silly foot soldiers who put themselves on the wrong side of the criminal law to do their bidding. No, the real intention of these people is to overturn our national institutions, to destroy our freedom and to obtain power over us by subverting the rule of law.

But by their fruits ye shall know them. The great environmentalist and self-appointed saviour of the human race and the planet, Jolyon (now ‘Jo’) Maugham has few qualms about beating to death a fox with a baseball bat in his garden and then telling the world about it on Twitter. Before you put your trust in him and his confederates, you might consider what manner of man he is and what he might be capable of.

Philip Walling

By Philip Walling

Having been a farmer and practised as a barrister, I am now a writer with two books published so far: Counting Sheep (2014) and Till the Cows Come Home (2018).

I am interested in everything to do with the countryside, rural history, humanity and the way we live now.

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