‘Woke’ barristers could be struck off after saying they will not prosecute ‘peaceful’ climate change protesters
- Group Lawyers are Responsible says they will object to prosecuting eco-groups
- Some 120 barristers and solicitors refusing to prosecute likes of Just Stop Oil
- Group handed in declaration over decision which puts fitness to practice at risk
A group of barristers could face disciplinary proceedings – including being struck off – after declaring that they will not prosecute ‘peaceful’ climate protesters.
Lawyers are Responsible, as the group calls itself, comprises some 120 barristers and solicitors who say they will object if they have to prosecute eco-groups such as Just Stop Oil – whose tactics include gluing themselves to roads to stop traffic.
Today they handed in their declaration to the Bar Standards Board, which regulates barristers. The declaration also says they will not act for companies involved in oil and gas projects.
The declaration puts their fitness to practise at risk because it directly flouts their professional code of conduct – that they keep their personal politics out of their job.
The so-called ‘cab rank rule’ stipulates that barristers takes on cases as long as they are competent to do so.
Their decision to abandon the rule – revealed in the Mail last week – has attracted a storm of criticism. Opponents include the Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer, Sir Robert Buckland, the former Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, the Bar Council and the Criminal Bar Association who say the move will undermine justice.
One of the leaders of the protest, Jolyon Maugham KC, handed in the declaration to the Bar Standards Board’s central London office along with two fellow barristers: Mark Hutchings KC and Monica Sobiecki of the law firm Bindmans.
Mr Maugham, who has hit headlines for legal challenges to Brexit and for beating a fox to death with a baseball bat in his garden, told the Mail yesterday: ‘We are aware that our actions breach our professional conduct rules.
‘As responsible members of the bar we are meant to self-refer, and that is what some of us are doing today, either in the form of a letter or online.
‘I appreciate it is a matter of public interest and I will be thinking about sharing the dialogue I have with the regulator publicly.’
Asked whether he was concerned that so-called peaceful protests could have harmful consequences to the public – for example if emergency services cannot pass on a blocked road – Mr Maugham said: ‘I accept there is a potential risk of harm occurring in consequence of protests.
‘But we also have to represent the reality of the harm that is not hypothetical but actual and real harm caused by climate change on a massive scale.’
One of the 120 signatories said outside the High Court today that lawyers working on fossil fuel projects would be responsible for ‘millions of deaths in the Global South’.
Paul Powlesland said: ‘I, as a barrister will not take money to use my professional skills to cause the deaths of millions of people.’
He said of climate protesters: ‘They are incredibly brave selfless people who are desperately trying to raise the alarm about the state of the crisis of the face.’
But Sir Bob Neill MP, chairman of the executive committee of the Society of Conservative Lawyers, who has had a successful career as a barrister specialising in criminal law, condemned the lawyers signing the declaration.
He said that many of those who had signed would be unlikely to ever be in the situation of prosecuting climate protesters.
He said: ‘Looking at the published list, none of these people has ever prosecuted and very few of them have any experience of criminal work.
‘So the likelihood they could be asked to put their money where their mouth is, is non-existent.
‘It is self-indulgent publicity-seeking but does very serious damage to the independence of the legal profession and the legal system.
‘The cab rank rule is there to ensure that anybody gets access to good quality justice. Anything that undermines that, undermines the rule of law.’
Earlier this week a spokesman for Sir Keir said: ‘As a KC and a former director of public prosecutions, Keir believes strongly in the cab-rank principle and the importance of barristers accepting the cases that come to them as a fundamental foundation of our justice system.’