Prominent lawyers have been accused of undermining the legal system by declaring that they will not prosecute climate activists.
Some 120 leading legal professionals are set to sign a ‘Statement of Conscience’ pledging to refuse their services in the prosecution of protesters from eco-groups like Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion.
Amid accusations of virtue signals, the group, which calls itself ‘Lawyers Are Responsible’, will also refuse to act on behalf of clients involved in oil and gas on the grounds that they are destroying the environment.
Leading lawyers believed to be involved are Jolyon Maugham KC, founder of the Good Law Project, and Sir Geoffrey Bindman KC, president of the British Institute for Human Rights.
The move drew fierce condemnation last night from high-ranking members of the legal profession, who accused the group of undermining the convention that everyone is entitled to fair legal representation.
Prominent lawyers believed to be involved are Jolyon Maugham KC (pictured: left), founder of the Good Law Project, and Sir Geoffrey Bindman KC (pictured: right), president of the British Institute for Human Rights.
Conservative MP Robert Buckland, King’s Counsel and former Justice Secretary, called the statement “very bizarre” and said: “There are a lot of people represented by lawyers who are deeply disliked and unpopular, such as rapists and pedophiles.”
the signatories? Majors of the law, a disabled activist and a fox killer
Jolyon Maugham KC
The director of the Good Law Project, which has launched legal action against the Met Police’s handling of Partygate. Maugham, pictured, narrowly avoided prosecution in 2019 after admitting he had beaten a fox to death with a baseball bat.
Tim Crosland, former attorney
Director of Plan B Earth, a campaign group that aims to take legal action against governments it decrees are reneging on climate commitments. He is organizing the statement. He was banned from practicing law this year after leaking the Supreme Court’s legal decision on the Heathrow expansion.
Sir Geoffrey Bindman KC
One of the UK’s most respected human rights lawyers. He was president of the British Institute for Human Rights and is a member of the Labor Campaign for Human Rights.
Prof Leslie Thomas KC
He specializes in claims against police and other public bodies and earned credit for representing 11 families of Hillsborough victims in 2014. He said he does not intend to abandon the taxi range rule.
But they are entitled to a fair trial. When lawyers start to pick and choose, it somewhat undermines the independence of the legal profession.
The importance of that independence is not about one’s individual views, but about the interests of justice, and I think that’s a very strange approach, frankly, and not really consistent with the role of a lawyer.
‘When you’re a lawyer, you put your personal views aside… and represent clients without fear or favor.
“This statement doesn’t fit very well with that principle.”
Another senior legal figure, who did not want to be named, said: “It seems absurd, a sign of virtue from Lefty’s lawyers, that’s how it seems to me.”
In English law, the so-called taxi range rule means that a lawyer must take a case that is within his knowledge and experience, provided he is free to do so, no matter how unpleasant the cause.
It is described as “an essential safeguard of access to justice, the public interest and the rule of law” by the Lawyer Standards Board, which regulates lawyers.
Conservative MP Sir Geoffrey Cox KC, a former Attorney General, said last night: “It is difficult to see, given the very clear rules the profession requires, how one can justify refusing instructions for political reasons…
“It is equally deplorable to attack any lawyer for the nature of his client, whether left or right… (a lawyer) is as beholden to or as interested in or connected to his client’s political views as a plumber is to his client, or a doctor to his basement.
And Nick Vineall KC, president of the Bar Association, which represents lawyers, said of the statement: ‘I have no doubt that these views are genuinely held and stem from good intentions. But I think the common good is best served by the long-established approach that we have a job to do as a profession.’
Some 120 top legal professionals are set to sign a ‘Statement of Conscience’ vowing to decline their services in prosecuting eco-group protesters.
Protesters celebrate outside Westminster Magistrates Court in central London after being cleared of tampering with an oil tanker on January 25, 2023.
In addition to Mr Maugham and Sir Geoffrey, it is understood that Professor Leslie Thomas KC, Gresham Law Professor, will sign the statement. Doing so could subject the attorneys to disciplinary proceedings. Mr Thomas said: “The taxi range rule does not prevent lawyers from speaking their minds or campaigning for causes they believe in.”
‘Signing the (statement) does not mean that I reject the taxi range rule or that I would refuse to act for any customer who instructs me in accordance with it. It simply means that I support the right of lawyers to take a stand against new fossil fuel projects and defend those who peacefully protest against them.’
Matt Hutchings KC, a business lawyer and one of the drafters of the statement, said: ‘We are looking at a global catastrophe. The UK needs to ditch fossil fuels and invest in alternatives much faster than we do.
“It is imperative that everyone, including lawyers, do what they can to make this happen.”