A group of lawyers in England have signed a “Declaration of Conscience” saying they will refuse to participate in the prosecution of peaceful climate protesters like Just Stop Oil, Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain.
The group of about 120 lawyers, who go by the name “Lawyers are Responsible,” will also refuse to represent those participating in new fossil fuel projects.
“Like big tobacco, the fossil fuel industry has known for decades what its activities mean. They mean the loss of human life and property – which the civil law should prevent but does not,” Director of the Good Law Project Jolyon Maugham, one of the key signatories of the declaration, wrote in The Guardian. “The scientific evidence is that global heating, the natural and inevitable consequence of its actions, will cause the deaths of huge numbers of people. The criminal law should punish this but it does not. Nor does the law recognise a crime of ecocide to deter the destruction of the planet. The law works for the fossil fuel industry – but it does not work for us.”
The Declaration of Conscience asks lawyers and the government “to act urgently to do whatever they can to address the causes and consequences of the climate and ecological crises and to advance a just transition to sustainability.”
“The IPCC has warned that continuing with implemented emissions policies will lead to projected global warming of 3.2°C this century. We are looking at a global catastrophe. The UK needs to divest from fossil fuels and invest in alternatives far more rapidly than we are. It is imperative that everyone, including lawyers, does what they can to make this happen,” said one of the drafters of the declaration Matt Hutchings in a press release from environmental law group Plan B.
The lawyers signing the declaration have been accused of undermining the legal principle that everyone is entitled to fair and impartial legal representation, reported The Guardian.
Acting on the principles of the document would mean breaking the “cab rank” rule, which obligates a lawyer to accept work in any field for which they are qualified and available.
“The cab rank rule does not prevent barristers from expressing their opinions or campaigning for causes they believe in,” said Gresham Professor of Law Leslie Thomas, as the Daily Mail reported. “Signing the [declaration] does not mean I reject the cab rank rule or that I would refuse to act for any client who instructs me in accordance with it. It simply means I support the right of lawyers to take a stand against new fossil fuel projects and to defend those who peacefully protest against them.”
Lawyers violating the rules can be fined, and junior lawyers can be blocked from being promoted to the judiciary or from receiving the king’s counsel “silk,” reported The Guardian.
“Young lawyers are being placed in an impossible position. We’re being told by our firms and regulators it’s a professional obligation to act for fossil fuel projects, knowing that doing so will poison our own future and all of life on Earth. That’s wrong on every level. It’s indefensible. If the profession doesn’t look out for my generation, how does it expect to survive?” said a junior lawyer who wished to remain anonymous, according to the press release.
Plan B and political nonprofit the Good Law Project coordinated the declaration, which is thought to be the first time lawyers have participated in a collective act of civil disobedience, The Guardian reported.
“Meanwhile, it’s the ordinary people of this country, taking a stand against this greed and destruction that the British legal system prosecutes and imprisons, jailing them just for talking about the climate crisis and fuel poverty. The rule of law has been turned on its head. Lawyers are responsible. It’s time to take a stand,” said Director of Plan B Tim Crosland in the press release.