The Bar Council has hit back at Legal Services Board (LSB) comments on the cab-rank rule, saying that it is “hard to fathom” why it would be against a rule that supports consumer choice.
We reported yesterday that a discussion paper before this week’s meeting of the LSB’s main board said it seemed “relatively straightforward” for barristers to avoid the rule by relying on exemptions.
It added that those who defended the rule as “a significant underpinning of access to justice” might be overstating the case and providing “a degree of false assurance to the public”
Responding to the comments, Bar Council chair Nick Vineall KC said: “The Bar Council sees a lot more of how the cab-rank rule functions in practice than the LSB sees. We know that barristers take their cab-rank obligations very seriously because there are calls to our ethical enquiries line to discuss it.
“It is not uncommon for the conclusion of those discussions to be that the barrister cannot decline a case which, but for the cab-rank rule, they would have declined.”
He argued that the LSB paper did not give “sufficient weight” to the fact that the rule “plainly promotes consumer choice”.
Mr Vineall explained: “If you have legal aid or can afford to instruct lawyers, the cab-rank rule means you have a wide choice of counsel. The fact that there seem to have been no recent complaints of breach of the cab rank rule seems to us to suggest that it is working well, and it is hard to fathom why anyone – least of all the LSB – might ever want to remove a rule that supports consumer choice.”
The silk continued that the rule was also important for those barristers who represented “unsavoury or unpopular clients because it underlines the principle that lawyers should not be associated with the causes of their clients”.
He concluded: “Given the wholly inappropriate comments that have been made this year about some immigration lawyers, the rule is as important now as it has ever been.”
The Bar Council has never had an easy relationship with the LSB but it appears to be deteriorating.
Earlier this month, it insisted that the LSB has “no role” in promoting the use of technology and that there were “dangers in using regulatory levers to attempt to do so”.
In August, the Bar Council said the LSB has no role in “attempting to control or regulate lawyers involved in assisting clients in the lawful use” of non-disclosure agreements.