Cab Rank Rule

May 13, 2023

Cab Rank Rule

Under the law in England and Wales, barristers are obligated to follow the cab rank rule. Despite some commentators viewing this rule as outdated, the cab rank rule continues to be a fundamental duty undertaken by all barristers to uphold the rule of law. 

The cab rank rule dictates that a barrister must accept any case allocated to them, provided that they are available and that the case is appropriate to their knowledge, experience, seniority and practice area. While there are exceptions to this rule, barristers are under a professional obligation to accept cases, regardless of their own personal views on the client and the case itself. The cab rank rule is established in C29 of the barristers’ Code of Conduct, located in the Bar Standards Board Handbook.

The purpose of this rule is to maintain the profession’s independence and prevent discrimination against parties in cases. This is particularly pertinent in criminal proceedings because the cab rank rule ensures that defendants are not barred from accessing representation as a result of the potentially heinous offence of which they are accused; however, the cab rank rule equally applies in civil proceedings.

The rule also aims to provide protection for barristers because, due to their inability to refuse cases, barristers should not be prejudiced for representing clients whose actions or opinions may not be widely approved of. However, Mary Prior KC contends that this is not always the reality, especially for barristers prosecuting and defending sexual offences: “barristers who prosecute rape and serious sexual offences are being vilified for “persecuting people who have been falsely accused””. Nonetheless, Prior KC maintains the importance of the cab rank rule because “if [barristers] were to choose what cases [to] take it would result in many being left undefended” and highlights the devastating and unjust impact this would have on the legal system as “the lives of [the] falsely accused may have been destroyed”.

However, it has been questioned whether the cab rank rule remains relevant to the representation of clients in the current legal climate. In 2013, the Legal Services Board described the rule as redundant and as an unenforceable principle. In response, the Bar Standards Board commissioned an independent report. This was endorsed by the Chair of the Bar Standards Board, Baroness Ruth Deeth who stated that “the cab rank rule is fundamental to justice.” This was echoed by the Chair of the Bar Council, Nick Vineall KC, who maintains that “the cab rank rule promotes access to justice and promotes the rule of law”, fearing that any reduction of the cab rank rule “will prejudice the Bar’s reputation for independence before the courts and the public.” Thus, resolute support from the Bar Council has ensured that the cab rank rule is retained as a foundational principle of the legal profession for barristers.

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