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More than 120 lawyers have banded together to refuse to prosecute climate protestors such as Extinction Rebellion, Insulate Britain and Just Stop Oil, as well as refusing to act on new fossil fuel projects.

The group, Lawyers Are Responsible, is made up of barristers, solicitors and academics, including some prominent individuals such as Sir Geoffrey Bindman KC (chair of the British Institute of Human Rights). Professor Leslie Thomas KC (a BSB board member) and Jolyon Maugham KC (founder of the Good Law Project).The group has a declaration on its website stating: "We declare, in accordance with our consciences, that we will withhold our services in respect of: (i) supporting new fossil fuel projects; and (ii) action against climate protesters exercising their democratic right of peaceful protest."

The group's stance has sparked a debate about the 'cab-rank' rule at the Bar: a duty on barristers to accept instructions, which prevents them from refusing work because they disagree with the actions or views of those seeking their services. In a bizarre turn, some of the signatories have self-reported to the Bar Standards Board for going against the rule. A statement by the group said: "This is understood to be the first time in legal history that barristers have engaged in a collective act of civil disobedience.”

One of the signatories, Jolyon Maugham KC, wrote an article in the Guardian for his reasons in joining Lawyers Are Responsible. He said that the cab-rank rule “is often used by those whose professional lives demonstrate no interest in access to justice, to shield barristers from criticism for self-interested decisions to act for wealthy rogues”.

“Sometimes the law is wrong," said Maugham. "What it stands for is the opposite of justice. 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.”

Paul Powlesland, another signatory, said on the Jeremy Vine show: “We have to ask ourselves, who should be in the dock here? Should it be people who are peacefully trying to draw attention to the greatest crisis that we face or should it be the fossil fuel execs who are knowingly taking a course of action that will lead to the deaths of millions of people in the Global South in the coming decades?”

But Bar Council chair Nick Vineall KC criticised the group. "The cab-rank rule promotes access to justice and promotes the rule of law," said Vineall. "It is disappointing that some lawyers apparently wish to remove these rights from people of whom they disapprove.” And Mark Neal, head of the Bar Standards Board said that barristers are generally obliged to accept instructions "irrespective of the identity of the client, the nature of their case and any belief they may have as to the client’s character or cause." 

The Secret Barrister, an anonymous criminal barrister and successful author with over 515,000 followers on Twitter, tweeted in favour of the cab-rank rule: “I prosecute when I’m instructed to prosecute. And defend when I’m instructed to defend. I don’t only act for people I like. Or in whose cause I “believe”. My personal view on what somebody is accused of plays no part in my job."

"The day that I decide I cannot defend or prosecute somebody because of what they are accused of, is the day that I should find another profession. Because the entire point of the independent Bar is to provide representation. Not to judge the cause of the clients we represent.”

The Secret Barrister also tweeted:


As part of the group's launch, it projected a video message onto the Royal Courts of Justice this week: 

Climate change will continue to be an emotive subject in the legal sector. Last November, Extinction Rebellion sprayed Eversheds Sutherland's office with fake oil, while some law students have previously vowed to boycott Gibson Dunn for helping corporate polluters. 

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Anonymous 31 March 23 09:45

Bad decision. See a lot of force behind a floodgates argument. 

If criminal defence lawyers refused to defend those accused of rape and murder then they would be going against the conduct expected of an officer of the court. We all regularly represent clients we do not like, but that does not mean we reduce our standards. 

Anonymous 31 March 23 09:53

Much as I hate to use the term "virtue signalling" (as I am not a right wing culture warrior/nut job) this does appear to be "virtue signalling" as most of these characters are not criminal lawyers and this seems to be more about right on self-promotion.

It also wrong in principle for the reasons SB sets out above.

I wonder if Jolyon has got a bit lost in his own ego? 

thecynic 31 March 23 09:54

Who cares what a bunch of virtue-signalling lefties think or do. We're not exactly short of lawyers in this country.

Dearie 31 March 23 09:56

"the lawyers named in this article are not on the Crown Prosecution Service panel so are not allowed to prosecute anyway". Lol

Mr Volpe 31 March 23 10:04

Jolyon Maugham, a friend to all the beasts of the earth, birds of the air, and fishes of the sea, except for foxes who apparently deserve nothing less than painful, drawn-out and terrifying death at the hands of a kimono-clad maniac.

Anonymous 31 March 23 10:07

But let's not forget, it's totally wrong for anyone to describe these people as 'activists' or 'lefty lawyers'. Doing so is "shocking and troubling".

It's an attack on the whole legal system, no less. 

Lolyon 31 March 23 10:16

That Lolyon doesn't prosecute eco-activists seems to have evaded him.  As does his long time reliance on the cab rank rule to justify acting for some clients with dubious tax affairs.         

Gobblepig 31 March 23 11:37

Any bandwagon that Jolyon dumps his capacious Kimono-wearing fox-battering behind onto will shortly crash ignominiously to the ground, as its wheels pop off with joyous vigour. 

Coincidence 31 March 23 11:50

But remember, there is no such thing as a lefty lawyer activist. These lunatics are such fervent cultists, imagine having to listen to them constantly espouse their end of days climate hysteria.

Vragtes 31 March 23 12:07

I understand the principle of the cab-rank rule but my experience in practice of over 30 years showed me that the so-called rule is not strictly followed. Many times, my chosen choice of barrister for banking litigation, was said to be unavailable due to trial commitments which turned out to be untrue. And then I discovered that a lot of his instructions (and to other barristers in the same chambers) came from firms instructed by the banks. 
I encountered this too often to be exceptional behaviour. 

Anonymous Anonymous 31 March 23 12:09

This is bad for the legal profession. The Law Society needs to make an decision on this action.

mmmmmmmmm 31 March 23 12:53

The cab rank rule is there for a reason, and if these people think they're somehow above it, then they should find another profession. If they really are concerned about the climate, I suggest that a good hard look at their own energy consumption might be in order. Maybe try a week of not using any petroleum products of any description?

Anonymous 31 March 23 13:03

Jolyon and Powlesland (a tax lawyer and an environmental lawyer respectively) have solemnly pledged not to prosecute climate protestors.

By the same token, I solemnly pledge not to sleep with Jennifer Lawrence.

jamiestone1 31 March 23 13:26

to quote someone commenting on the story on another website, if there is anyone who actually believes the cab rank rule is enforced in practice, then I have a bridge to sell them

Come on 31 March 23 13:28

Since when has the cab rank rule ever actually applied in civil litigation? You think the likes of Herbies and Quinn Emmanuel are waiting at the proverbial cab rank flagging down the next silk that strolls up with their 7-figure brief fee? Errr no. They are hired just as any solicitor is hired. 

Anonymous 31 March 23 13:40

@13:26 @13:28

The world of criminal law is quite different to civil law. 

But glad your lack of knowledge and experience hasn't deterred you from commenting.

love the parking at your regional firm 03 April 23 15:45

they should all be struck off 


and the idiot protesters need to know that freedom of expression isn't the same as freedom to harass. ultimately, they are alienating large chunks of the population who we need on side to tackle environmental damage

anon 12 April 23 18:40

On what planet would tax silk, Joyless Moan ever prosecute climate activists? He seems to have trouble understanding legal standing for most of the car crash of litigation undertaken by the Good Laugh Project?

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