Barristers defy Bar and refuse to prosecute eco-activists

updated on 10 May 2023

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The legal profession is facing a new challenge as leading barristers defy Bar rules by pledging not to prosecute peaceful climate protesters or represent companies involved in fossil fuel projects.  

More than 120 lawyers, mainly from England, have signed a declaration expressing their intention to "withhold their services" when it comes to supporting new fossil fuel ventures and taking action against climate activists engaging in peaceful protests.  

The declaration, known as the "declaration of conscience", emphasises that climate breakdown poses a significant risk to the rule of law and urges legal professionals to take urgent action to address the climate and ecological crises.  

Jolyon Maugham, head of the Good Law Project and a key signatory, highlights the failure of civil and criminal law to adequately address the consequences of fossil fuel activities and the urgent need for justice.  

Despite the barristers' declaration, concerns have been raised about the potential infringement on the principle of fair and impartial legal representation.  

The Bar Standards Board will review the violation of the "cab rank" rule, which requires barristers to take cases they’re qualified for, provided they’re available.  

While fines can be imposed for rule violations, junior lawyers fear more severe consequences, such as being barred from professional advancements. These young lawyers argue that being obligated to represent fossil fuel projects contradicts their own interests and the future of the planet.  

One junior lawyer spoke to the Guardian anonymously: “Young lawyers are being placed in an impossible position. We’re being told by our firms and regulators it’s a professional obligation to act for fossil fuel projects, knowing that doing so will poison our own future and all of life on Earth. That’s wrong on every level. It’s indefensible.”  

Until this time junior lawyers are left concerned that if the legal profession fails to consider its impact on future generations, “how does it expect to survive?”