Thursday, 20 October 2016

How the "Cab Rank Rule" works

You may have heard of the Cab Rank Rule for barristers: barristers take their clients as cabdrivers take their fares. The idea is that, as Lord Hoffmann put it, "Every barrister not otherwise engaged is available for hire by any client willing and able to pay the appropriate fee. This rule protects barristers against being criticised for giving their services to a client with a bad reputation and enables unpopular causes to obtain representation in court." Lord Hutton described it as "a fundamental and essential part of a liberal legal system". You get the idea.

This is the lighthearted diary of a fictional QC doing criminal work. Our diarist is meant to be a sympathetic protagonist, struggling with the financial hardships of modern criminal work and occasionally regretting the passing of the good old days.

The following is from his most recent column. The scene: his clerk has come to his room with a case in mind.

"‘You like Mrs Whitcomb of Rodericks and Carlson, don’t you sir?’ He knows I do. ‘It’s just that she’s got a very nice little section 18 I thought you might suit you.’ I enquired how she had secured public funding, as a charge of causing grievous bodily harm with intent is almost always seen as not requiring Queen’s Counsel by the powers-that-be. ‘Private, sir,’ was the response. ‘Oh,’ I said, moving slightly forward in my chair but hiding my excitement. ‘Oh well, I don’t mind. And, yes, I do like her. She is extremely capable and enormous fun.’ Andrew looked at me: ‘It is in Wales, sir.’ I knew it had been too good to be true. ‘I do have quite a bit of paper work to do actually, now I think about it.’ ‘Leading Miss Briar-Pitt, sir, and she’s got a lot of papers to work on too; in that fraud next year here in London. The one she hasn’t got a leader in yet.’ He had put his cards on the table and asked to see my hand. I folded."

I don't do criminal work, but the scene sounds plausible to me. Lord Hoffmann's "not otherwise engaged" can be a bit of a movable feast.

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