UK and Ireland Bars reassert commitment to cab rank rule

updated on 20 June 2023

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The Bars of the UK and Ireland have doubled down on their commitment to the cab rank rule ahead of the Four Jurisdictions Conference in Belfast. 

The cab rank rule dictates that barristers must take on any case provided: 

  • it’s within their competence; 

  • they’re available; and 

  • they’re properly remunerated. 

This reaffirmed commitment comes after LawCareers.Net reported that more than 120 lawyers refused to act in support of fossil fuel ventures or take action against peaceful climate activists.  

The new statement said:  “The cab rank rule is a bedrock obligation for the independent referral Bar. […] The cab rank rule promotes access to justice. It means that clients will not be deprived of the advocate of their choice because the client or the client’s cause could be seen as objectionable or unpopular. People with unpopular causes or accused of serious offences don’t need the additional challenge of having first to persuade a lawyer to take them on.” 

For more information on the Bar and becoming a Barrister, check out our Barristers hub

Previously, fines were imposed to sanction barristers for their violation of the cab rank rule. At this time one junior lawyer accused the Bar of putting them in an “impossible position”. They argued that the Bar was reaffirming “a professional obligation to act for fossil fuel projects, knowing that doing so will poison our own future and all life on earth”.  

However, the independent referral Bars of England and Wales, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland have collectively expressed their support for the cab rank rule, expressing that it: 

  • “promotes access to justice; 

  • recognises that it’s for judges and juries to decide and to judge, and that passing judgment is not the role of advocates; 

  • imposes an obligation on the independent referral Bar to accept work even from those with whom we profoundly disagree, and of whom we profoundly disapprove; and 

  • means that our role and duty as advocates is, and is only, to advise, and then to represent, always subject to our duties to the court." 

The statement was signed by Nick Vineall KC, chair of the Bar Council of England and Wales; Sara Phelan SC, chair of the Bar of Ireland; Moira Smyth KC, chair of the Bar of Northern Ireland; and Roddy Dunlop KC, dean of the faculty of advocates.