In Britain and Australia Barristers must accept work on a ‘first come, first served’ basis which is what is referred to as the cab rank rule.
The rule derives its name from the old London tradition by which the driver of a Hackney carriage or ‘Taxi’ as it’s known elsewhere in the world is obliged to take the first patron regardless of who they are or where they are going.
So how does the cab rank rule apply to Barristers?
Just like cab drivers, barristers must accept cases on a first come, first served basis. The rule prohibits a barrister who is available and competent from refusing a case based on their personal beliefs or opinions such as, the identity of the client, nature of the case and whether they think the client is guilty or not guilty. Barristers do have grounds to refuse cases when they are professionally engaged or unavailable, not been offered a fair fee, have a conflict of interest or lack the skills and experience to represent a client properly.
In short, if a barrister receives instructions from a solicitor and the instructions are relevant to their experience and field of practice, they must act on it.
Why do we have the cab rank rule?
The cab rank rule has been under intense debate over the last few years, and even the law society of new south wales have made what many in the profession have called a controversial comment regarding the rule.
Never the less without the cab-rank rule, a person of bad character who is presumed to be guilty might not get legal representation they need. As we have seen many times throughout the course of history, you can never judge a book by its cover.
There’s also the element that if a barrister chose to represent an unsavoury person they might be criticised amongst their peers for doing so.
In Canada, they have what’s known as the Model Code of Professional Conduct. which acknowledges a “right to decline representation”, but encourages a cab rank approach.
Does the cab rank rule apply to solicitors?
The answer is no; the rule only applies to barristers.
Solicitors are free to accept or reject matters based on their own, or firms preferences. However, there is a code of conduct that solicitors should abide by.
Competence, diligence and promptness
Provision of clear and timely advice
Lawful and proper instructions
Former, current and personal conflicts
Completion of legal services
Anti-discrimination and harassment
What countries adopt the cab rank rule?
The Cab Rank Rule or something similar is common in other English law jurisdictions.
According to the bar standards board of the UK, the following counties adopt the rule.
The Republic of Ireland;
Australia (all of it);
Nigeria (in respect of criminal cases only); and
Trinidad & Tobago (in respect of capital cases only).