Introducing His Honour Judge Pennyweather and the cab rank rule

Posted on 11th Mar 2013 in BabyBarista

Brought to you with the support of our friends at The Incorporated Council of Law Reporting

J Penny Weather

J Penny Weather from BabyBarister

Let me introduce you to a new character in the BabyBarista fold: His Honour Judge Pennyweather who sits as a circuit judge outside London. He’s grumbly, eccentric, crusty and seemingly older than his 68 years would suggest. The first part of his name brings to mind a penny for your thoughts which seem to leak out from one orifice with the same incontinence from which he also suffers elsewhere. The second part reflects that those outspoken thoughts and opinions are likely to change as fast as the British weather. The following was one of the rants that he is well-known for delivering over a long lunch in the wine bar most local to his court.

Sometimes I really hate barristers. Not just dislike them or namby pamby just prefer them not to be appearing in front of me. No, sometimes I really hate them and today was one such day. You see, neither of the two barristers appearing in front of me even wanted to be representing their own particular client. Both were young and were very clearly resenting the effects of the so-called cab rank rule. Each was full of such disingenuous and snivelly caveats as “Er, your honour my instructions are…” or worse still, “Your honour, I have been instructed to argue…” and each very clearly thought their own client was lying. Even though it was a case where one side or the other must have been telling the truth.

But anyway, who really cares about the details of my particular cases? I certainly don’t. What gets my goat is that these barristers were paid huge amounts of money to do more harm than good for their clients. Not that I’m saying this is common, particularly for the more senior members of the bar. On the other hand, I sometimes wonder whether the cab rank rule even registers with some of the more experienced element since they might just side-step it by quoting a higher fee for a case they don’t quite fancy or instead suddenly discover that they are behind on their paper practice.
But what’s even more galling about the rule is the name, as if somehow cab drivers are the model upon which we should all base our professional ethics. The mothership of good behaviour from which all other professional codes of conduct were born. As if a cabbie would never turn down a short journey on the basis that “I’m just on my way home” or “I forgot to switch off my for hire light”.

So let’s get rid of this stupid rule, hold our heads up high and not pretend that for good or for bad it isn’t the market which determines who gets which barrister. As if somehow justice isn’t for sale and there’s no reason at all why one barrister is paid more than another.
Oh, and before you get on a high horse about some people slipping through the net, why not instead beef up legal aid and the like for those in need? But in the meantime let’s not pretend that it needs to apply to the sort of case I had in front of me today. Then I might instead get barristers who put their heart and soul into their cases rather than sucking air through their teeth like some kind of spoilt children as if it’s the greatest effort in the world just to stand up and introduce the client who’s providing them with such lucrative work.

Though if I’m being fair about the counsel who appeared in front of me today, I suppose I should add that each of them had one redeeming feature: that they were both using the official law reports of the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting. Though for what it’s worth I eventually decided the case in favour of the barrister who used cases downloaded from the extremely convenient ICLR online.

The wonderful cartoon of HHJ Pennyweather is by Alex Williams. For an excellent discussion about the Cab Rank Rule visit the ICLR Blog.