As a barrister with a practice working in commercial fraud I am often asked ‘How can you act for people who do terrible things?’ I have even received ‘hate mail’ for doing so.
A fundamental cornerstone of our legal system is that everybody, no matter how heinous or despicable their behaviour, is entitled to legal representation. My role as a barrister is not to make a moral assessment of a client’s character or behaviour. My role is to understand the facts, provide legal advice, and represent my clients in Court to ensure they receive a fair hearing.
One of the oldest and most honourable responsibilities of being a barrister is working within ‘the cab rank rule’. The cab rank rule is enshrined in in Rule 17 of the Legal Profession Uniform Conduct (Barristers) Rules 2015. The rule is that a barrister has an obligation to take the next case that crosses their desk (just as a cab driver must take the next fare-paying customer) provided:
- The case is within the area of law that they practise
- The client is able to pay for the services (or has Legal Aid)
- The barrister has the time and availability to give the case their proper attention
- The barrister has no conflict of interest in accepting the brief
Some have even suggested that the cab rank rule is the equivalent of the medical profession’s Hippocratic oath. It is essential to the operation of an independent Bar. If not for this rule, clients accused of morally repugnant or violent crimes might struggle to obtain representation. Often these people are those who have the most at stake and arguably the most need for competent representation.
So when you see a barrister representing someone accused of something terrible, remember it is the barrister’s duty to do so, and to refuse would be in breach of the conduct rules of our profession.