26 March 2013

Removal of the ‘cab rank’ rule a major threat to justice

Those accused of violent crimes such as rape and terrorism could struggle to find appropriate legal representation if the 'cab rank' rule is abolished, according to a new report obtained by the Bar Standards Board. The study is in response to a report commissioned by the Legal Services Board which argues that the rule is no longer relevant.

The cab rank rule means a barrister must take a case that is within their knowledge and expertise provided they are free to do so, no matter how unpalatable the case. Although there are practical exceptions*, it means that everyone has the chance to be represented by a barrister of their choice, which in turn ensures a fair trial.

Chair of the Bar Standards Board, Baroness Ruth Deech, said: "We commissioned an independent report to evaluate whether the rule was still relevant. The findings are clear: removing the cab rank principle would threaten access to justice.  The independent report uncovered a body of evidence that showed the rule protects the interests of the consumer, not the barrister.

We are pleased that the Legal Services Board has taken a fresh look at the cab rank principle and appreciate that they have not yet reached a conclusion. However, in the interests of ensuring that we have a wide and well informed debate, we thought it vital that alternative views, based on evidence, be expressed.  Currently the rule only applies to barristers, but the cab rank rule is fundamental to justice."

The BSB report shows that the rule also 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 consumers 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.


Notes to Editors

• Further information from the Bar Standards Board Press Office on 020 7611 1452.

• * paragraphs 603, 604, 605 and 606 of the Code of Conduct outline the exceptions to the cab rank rule, which include barristers not being obliged to take an inadequate fee or pro bono work or take an instruction if it is outside of their area of expertise

• The Bar Standards Board report is available here.

• The LSB report is authored by Professors Flood and Hviid.

• The Bar Standards Board regulates in the public interest barristers called to the Bar in England and Wales.

• It is responsible for:
o Setting the education and training requirements for becoming a barrister
o Setting continuing training requirements to ensure that barristers' skills are maintained throughout their careers
o Setting standards of conduct for barristers
o Monitoring the service provided by barristers to assure quality, and handling complaints against barristers and taking disciplinary or other action where appropriate