Climate declaration: Barristers vowing to withhold services are irresponsible, readers say

The results are in and the verdict is clear: readers do not think barristers in England and Wales are justified in declaring they will break the cab-rank rule in certain cases related to the climate emergency.

SLN ran two opinions of the issue: one from lawyer Benjamin Bestgen in support of the barristers’ cause and the other in opposition to it, by SLN editor Kapil Summan.

Climate declaration: Barristers vowing to withhold services are irresponsible, readers say

Of the 185 responses, 84.3 per cent, or 156 readers, said ‘no’, barristers were not justified in their action; 15.7 per cent, or 29 readers, said they were.

Ninety-five per cent of readers aged 55 and over answered ‘no’, with just five per cent, or four respondents, supporting the barristers. Of readers aged 25-44, 25 per cent said they were justified, with the remaining 75 per cent answering in the negative.

One reader thought disbarment was the answer: “Any advocate adopting this stance should be subjected to proceedings for professional misconduct, and if the matter is found proven, be struck off.”

A former practitioner wrote: “I am a retired solicitor and just think this is wrong not only on the cab-rank principle which applies to barristers if not solicitors but also on the grounds that it sets a precedent and who will they decide next does not deserve legal representation. This is not how an advanced democracy should operate.”

Another said the barristers “should be disciplined by their professional body if fail to abide by the longstanding cab-rank rule. They know what they signed up for when they became barristers. Unfortunately a sad reflection on the erosion of professional standards seen on both sides of the border”.

It is “pointless attention-seeking” at best, said one respondent.

There were, however, some spirited defences of their decision.

A reader wrote in support of Mr Bestgen’s piece: “I believe Mr Bestgen made a well-reasoned argument on the importance of justice being the foundation of our laws. The hopelessly corrupt and out-of-touch Westminster government are making a mockery of our legal system. It is right that some lawyers decided to draw a line in the sand, because our laws are worthless if people cannot in good conscience support and apply them.”

Said another: “We need more pushing back against climate change and and increasingly authoritarian and prejudiced executive action.”

“The cab-rank rule shouldn’t stop legal professionals from having a conscience or from being allowed to follow it,” one respondent said.

A thoughtful comment summed up the views of those against the declaration: “Making a choice to withhold legal representation results in a miscarriage of justice in itself and the lawyer who makes that decision has put his own personal views before those of the court. Even the most despicable architects of the Holocaust had representation at Nuremberg. Without legal counsel what are trials and proofs worth?”

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