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The Lawyers’ Declaration of Conscience

Barristers declare they won’t prosecute climate activists or work for companies involved in new fossil fuel projects – and may face disciplinary action as a result
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
The statue of Lady Justice, holding a sword and weighing scales, located on top of the Central Criminal Court (Old Bailey) in London

The director of Good Law Project, Jolyon Maugham, is supporting action by over 100 leading lawyers who say they are no longer prepared to work for companies embarking on new fossil fuel projects or get involved in the prosecution of climate protestors.

The lawyers will hand over what they’re calling the ‘Lawyers’ Declaration of Conscience’ to the Bar Standards Board today (29 March).

Their action means they are breaking a professional code of conduct and could risk disciplinary action or be fined. 

Lawyers take a stand

The stance reflects mounting concern across the legal profession about the ongoing imprisonment of peaceful protestors, some of whom have been jailed just for talking about climate change at their trials.

The lawyers who have signed the declaration are setting themselves at odds with professional regulations which require barristers to take on legal cases even if they consider them to be ‘objectionable’ (a principle sometimes referred to as the ‘cab-rank rule’).

‘We should not be forced to work for the law’s wrongful ends by helping deliver new fossil fuel projects. We should not be forced to prosecute our brave friends whose conduct, protesting against the destruction of the planet, the law wrongly criminalises. We think it’s important to say this and say it clearly.’

Director of Good Law Project

Fossil fuels and law firms

The UK legal profession, taken as a whole, plays a major role in supporting companies involved in the fossil fuel economy.

Research carried out by young lawyers in the US revealed that London law firms are some of the worst offenders in terms of facilitating fossil fuel transactions, while the NGO Carbon Tracker estimates the City of London as a whole supports at least 15% of global carbon emissions.
The declaration states that those who peacefully protest against the climate crisis should not be treated as criminals: on just one day last year, more than 50 peaceful climate protestors were jailed in the UK.

‘I live on planet earth but I do not own it. I see myself as a custodian whose good fortune and responsibility is to represent its interests and those of fellow guardians; not those who seek to exploit its resources for profit or oppress the voice of the protectors.’

Barrister and head of chambers at Nexus Chambers

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