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Our Director, Jo Maugham, explains why he and 120 other leading barristers have signed a Declaration of Conscience to stop representing fossil fuel interests.
Today our founder, Jo Maugham, has come under attack by the Daily Mail for pledging not to act for fossil fuel companies, and not to prosecute those who peacefully protest for action on climate change.
Jo has written a piece for today’s Guardian explaining why he chose to proudly defy the cab rank rule, which compels barristers to represent anyone who approaches them. We include a shorter version here:
The cab rank rule expresses a beautiful idea. That access to the law – society’s great leveller – is for everyone, whoever they are and whatever they are said to have done. What it says is that we barristers act for whoever seeks our services – like taxi drivers in a rank take whoever is next in the queue – whether we like the look of them or not.
And it is not just an idea – it is also a professional conduct obligation. If we breach it, decide we will not act for someone because we don’t like who they are or what they do, we commit professional misconduct – and face disciplinary sanction. We could be fined, or suspended; even struck off.
It’s only right, then, that I answer the questions raised by my support of a new declaration, signed by myself and more than a hundred other lawyers, in solidarity with all those on the frontline of the climate and ecological crises. In the declaration we pledge not to represent those who seek to worsen the climate crisis, nor prosecute those who are peacefully calling for action. Some of those questions have been raised on the front page of Friday’s Daily Mail under the headline, “Fury at Woke Barristers Refusing to Prosecute Eco Warriors”.
The cab rank rule is bound up, inseparably, with the idea that the law is right and its ends are worth upholding. But the law is not always right.
Like Big Tobacco, the fossil fuel industry has known for decades what its activities mean. They mean the loss of human life and property – which the civil law should prevent but does not. The scientific evidence is that global heating, the natural and inevitable consequence of its actions, will cause the deaths of huge numbers of people. The criminal law should punish this but it does not. Nor does the law recognise a crime of ecocide to deter the destruction of the planet. The law works for the fossil fuel industry – but it does not work for us.
Sometimes the law is wrong. What it stands for is the opposite of justice. Today’s history books speak with horror about what the law of yesterday did, of how it permitted racism, rape and murder. And tomorrow’s history books will say the same about the law as it stands today, of how it enabled the destruction of our planet and the displacement of billions of people.
We should not be forced to work for the law’s wrongful ends by helping deliver new fossil fuel projects. We should not be forced to prosecute our brave friends whose conduct, protesting against the destruction of the planet, the law wrongly criminalises.
That is a beautiful idea too.
Good Law Project will continue to just the law to fight for a greener, fairer, better future – but we only exist thanks to donations from people across the UK. If you’re in a position to support our work, you can do so here.