UK Barristers Pledge Not to Prosecute Peaceful Climate Activists in a Bold Declaration

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Over 120 English barristers and attorneys have recently signed the “declaration of conscience,” pledging not to prosecute nonviolent climate activists or represent fossil fuel corporations. The declaration underscores the rule of law’s vulnerability to climate change and urges legal professionals to take immediate action and advocate for a fair shift away from fossil fuels. Leading barrister Jolyon Maugham and others posit that the fossil fuel industry, similar to the tobacco industry, has long been cognisant of its harmful effects on the environment. Regrettably, the law currently lacks adequate protection against the damages caused by the fossil fuel industry.

Maugham argues that the scientific evidence shows global warming, the natural result of fossil fuel emissions, will kill many. That should be a punishable crime, yet it is not. The law also doesn’t recognise ecocide, the destruction of nature. Basically, Maugham asserts, the law works for the fossil fuel companies but not the public. The declaration was signed by 18 barristers, including 6 prominent King’s Counsel. They will now self-report to regulators for violating rules stating barristers must accept qualified cases.

The Chair of the Bar Council supports the legal profession’s “cab rank rule,” which ensures access to justice and prevents discrimination. This rule requires barristers to represent clients they disagree with, while clients have the right to choose their legal representation. However, some barristers believe they should be able to refuse corporate clients with detrimental climate policies. The Council chair strongly believes that following established professional rules benefits society. Violating the cab rank rule can result in fines and career limitations for barristers. Junior lawyers are concerned about being pressured to work on fossil fuel projects despite the negative environmental impact. Advocates argue that wealthy lawyers play a significant role in oil and gas deals, while climate protesters face prosecution, and claim that lawyers are responsible for injustice in these situations.

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