Bar chiefs line up to defend cab rank rule

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The Bar Council and Bar Standards Board have published separate reports staunchly defending the cab rank rule.

They both respond to a January report by the Legal Services Board in which professors John Flood and Morten Hviid suggested the rule is ‘redundant’ and should be abolished.

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Flood and Hviid maintained that abolishing the rule, which is ‘regularly breached’ and serves ‘no clear purpose’, would have no effect on the practice of law or the delivery of legal services.

The Bar Council’s paper, written by Sir Sydney Kentridge QC, says: ‘The professors see only that breaches of the rule are difficult to detect and conclude that breaches must inevitably occur.

‘They do not see the bar as an honourable profession whose members generally obey the ethical rules of their profession, and who do not seek to evade them.’

Kentridge accused Flood and Hviid’s report of showing hostility both to the cab rank rule and also to the bar, saying that it ‘sneers at its ethical pretensions’.

‘One finds also far-reaching conclusions based on selective quotation, flimsy evidence or no evidence at all – very far from what one would expect from senior academics doing serious research,’ adds Kentridge.

Maura McGowan QC (pictured), the bar chair, said the cab rank rule is ‘deeply embedded’ in the bar’s culture and plays a core role in defining the profession’s ‘instinctive commitment’ to access to justice. She said Kentridge’s report had ‘laid bare the numerous errors and apparent prejudice’ throughout the LSB’s ‘disturbingly expensive’ report.

A Freedom of Information request revealed that the original report from January cost the LSB £21,367.

The BSB’s report says that those accused of violent crimes such as rape and terrorism could struggle to find appropriate legal representation if the cab rank rule were abolished.

The report was written voluntarily by three barristers from London’s Fountain Chambers, Michael McLaren QC, Craig Ulyatt and Christopher Knowles.

It suggests that the rule protects barristers from the wrath of the community and the social stigma that might arise from representing an unpopular defendant.

It also argues that the rule prevents major users of advocacy services, such as banks, from putting certain barristers out of circulation by making them unavailable for others or simply paying barristers to agree not to act against them.

BSB chair Lady Deech said that the cab rank rule is ‘fundamental to justice’ and that the BSB’s report shows that removing it would threaten access.

‘The independent report uncovered a body of evidence that showed the rule protects the interests of the consumer, not the barrister,’ Deech said.

Read the Bar Council’s full report and the BSB’s report.

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