I am indebted to Victorian Maiden (QC) at Ruthie’s Law for the news that Bruce Hyman is to be sentenced tomorrow, 19 September. He may make history as the first barrister for 800 years to be sent to prison for perverting the course of justice.
Hyman’s erstwhile chambers, Doughty Street, are preserving a wall of silence and it is only google traces that now identify him with the, err, doughty defenders of human rights. I share VM’s view that Doughty Street need to at the very least acknowledge that this has happened. On this occasion at least, silence is not the dignified option.
But VM’s views on Chambers espousing a position, and with it limiting who they act for, gave me something to think about.
Firstly, in terms of my own situation. Granted, solicitors don’t have the same ‘act for all-comers’ principle, but I am now involved in some acting for landlord cases where so far I have always been on the tenant side. In terms of practice and indeed law, this has been interesting. And, as a frankly pretty damn good tenant-side lawyer, poacher turned gamekeeper comes easily.
However, I came into law intending to be a legal aid practitioner and so it remains, possibly foolishly. Am I wrong to limit my potential future clients in this way? Does it impede my practice or make me a worse solicitor (to be)? Does it interfere with a duty to the Court? I think the answer is no on all counts, except in terms of money coming in. The crucial question is does this affect my duty to the clients? Would I, for instance, subjugate the client’s interests to principle or a political point? And of course, the answer is no, absolutely not.
Does this make me a better person, or rather make me think that I am a better person? No. Only a pompous idiot or first year student would equate trying to act in accord with their political or social views with their own personal virtue. A secular protestantism, which is never pretty.
For the Bar, some things are different. As VM puts it ‘barristers should act for all comers’. This is indeed an honourable principle – barristers serve the law above all, albeit in the interests of the client of the moment. Doughty Street’s avowed commitment to ‘human rights and civil liberties‘, for VM at least, cuts against the all comers principle, presumably by making them incapable of arguing cases against human rights and civil liberties with any appearance of conviction.
On the one hand, I can certainly appreciate the argument. Perhaps even more so than with a solicitor, a barrister’s client needs to know that the advice and representation that they receive will be with regard to their interest from an independent view of the law. The all-comers principle ensures the independence of the barrister.
On the other hand, despite VM’s stout defence of principle, the practice is frequently at odds with it. We all know about criminal barristers who don’t take legal aid cases, or commercial barristers who won’t get out of bed for a brief fee under five figures, or Counsel who only act for local authorities, never the citizen. Acting for all comers often means acting for all comers who can afford the fee. Just try getting a taxi to go south of the river after eleven pm to see where the ‘cab rank’ gets you.
I take it as read that such practice would also attract VM’s ire, as the only distinction that I can see is between an overt (perhaps smug) profession of approach and a more covert (certainly hypocritical and also smug) selection of clients.
But such sniping aside, I am, quite genuinely, not sure about the continuing importance of the all-comers principle. I fully understand the value of the principle, but what if it was acknowledged to have pretty much gone? Does a barrister who, in covert practice or in overt pursuit of professed values, tends to act for certain classes of client have a lesser knowledge of law, or expertise in advocacy? I see no reason why that should be the case. I also don’t see any issue for the barrister’s independence that hasn’t already been put in play by Conditional Fee Agreements, for example. I am undecided and open to argument on the point.
As an old, Chablis pickled lefty, though, I would have to agree that there is nothing so annoying as a sanctimonious liberal.