Cab-rank rule

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In English law (and other countries which adopt the rule), the cab-rank rule is the obligation of a barrister to accept any work in a field in which he professes himself competent to practise, at a court at which he normally appears, and at his usual rates. The rule derives its name from the tradition by which a Hackney carriage driver at the head of a queue of taxicabs is supposed to take the first passenger requesting a ride.

Paragraph 602–606 of the Code of Conduct of the Bar of England and Wales state:

  • A self-employed barrister must comply with the "Cab-rank rule" and accordingly except only as otherwise provided in paragraphs 603 604 605 and 606 he must in any field in which he professes to practise in relation to work appropriate to his experience and seniority and irrespective of whether his client is paying privately or is publicly funded:
    1. accept any brief to appear before a Court in which he professes to practise
    2. accept any instructions
    3. act for any person on whose behalf he is instructed
    4. and do so irrespective of
      1. the party on whose behalf he is instructed
      2. the nature of the case
      3. any belief or opinion which he may have formed as to the character, reputation, cause, conduct, guilt or innocence of that person.[1]

Without the cab rank rule, an unpopular person might not get legal representation; barristers who acted for them might be criticised for doing so.

In 1999, Lord Irvine, the then Lord Chancellor, said:

The "cab-rank" rule is one of the glories of the Bar. It underscores that every member of the Bar is obliged, without fear or favour, to represent clients who offer themselves, regardless of how unpopular they may be in the community or elsewhere.

The cab-rank rule has its opponents. In 2010, the Law Society of England and Wales, which represents solicitors, together with The Bar Council said:

The Society questions whether the cab-rank rule remains a necessary and proportionate rule for the Bar at a time when there is increasing competition for advocacy services.

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