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Proposals to scrap the bar’s longstanding cab rank rule have been rejected by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).
It is understood that the Bar Standards Board (BSB) considered the move as part of wider changes to the regulations governing the bar, which included the introduction of standard terms of contracts.
The cab rank rule obliges a barrister to accept an instruction in the field in which they practice regardless of its value and who the client is. Its removal would allow barristers to reject work.
One BSB insider told The Lawyer: “The cab rank rule is all about providing access to justice - removing it would be unthinkable. It’s the only profession where you can’t refuse to take work on the basis that you might not get paid.”
Pressure to remove the rule was put on the BSB by sections of the public bar, which has come under increasingly tighter economic pressures and where barristers want to be able to take more control of their workloads.
“These people are being forced to take cases at unreasonably low rates and want a get-out clause,” another clerk commented.
Reluctant to force the change on the bar, the BSB looked to the MoJ for advice. It has told the BSB that any changes would need further consultation and because it hands over powers to the Legal Services Board in July 2010 there would be insufficient time to consult.