The 120 lawyers signing a ‘Declaration of Conscience’ are compared to ‘rapists and paedophiles’ by a Conservative MP in the Daily Mail
Britain’s leading lawyers are refusing to act in the interests of new fossil fuel projects or prosecute climate activists after last week’s damning IPCC report which delivered a “final warning” to humanity, urging an end to fossil fuel consumption. It is understood to be the first time in legal history that barristers have engaged in a collective act of civil disobedience.
More than 120 lawyers, including the Chair of the British Institute of Human Rights, Sir Geoffrey Bindman, signed the ‘Declaration of Conscience’ which noted that continued fossil fuel developments posed “a serious risk to the rule of law”, given the UK parliament’s declaration of a climate emergency in 2019 and warnings from international agencies. The barristers, who call themselves, Lawyers Are Responsible, called upon the government and their fellow lawyers to “do whatever they can to address the causes and consequences of the climate and ecological crises”.
One signatory, barrister Paul Powlesland, said: “We’re refusing to advise fossil fuel companies on how to dig for new oil and gas, the same way we wouldn’t advise a killer how to commit serial murders.”
The group has been attacked by some of the right-wing press for heeding the UN secretary general’s call to “massively fast-track climate efforts”. Speaking when the IPCC report was released, António Guterres said, “Our world needs climate action on all fronts: everything, everywhere, all at once.”
The Daily Mail responded to this catastrophic report by relegating the news to page 19 and publishing an editorial warning against climate hysteria. The paper broke the embargo on the Lawyers Are Responsible press release to submit the group to a front-page attack, slamming them as “woke”.
Speaking to the paper, Conservative MP and former justice secretary, Robert Buckland, compared climate activists to “rapists and paedophiles”: “There are plenty of people lawyers represent who are deeply unpleasant and deeply unpopular, such as rapists and paedophiles. But they are entitled to a fair trial. When lawyers start picking and choosing, in a way it undermines the independence of the legal profession.”
Ignoring the recent IPCC report and climate warning from the world’s top international agency, The Telegraph used a small poll to claim that climate action “ will do nothing but make us all colder and poorer”.
‘The Rule of Law has Been Turned on its Head’
Mic Wright, creator of the media criticism newsletter, Broken Bottle Boy, told Byline Times: “The Daily Mail wants to frame climate protestors as a dangerous other and if that means it also has to frame barristers as the enemy within, that is what it will do. There is no debate for the Mail, just a war to be won.”
Lawyers Are Responsible maintains the real villains are the “ecocidal” industry players making a fortune from climate destruction.“Lawyers are particularly responsible for their choices to represent ecocidal fossil fuel companies,” said Declan Owens, a solicitor with Ecojustice Legal Action Centre and co-chair of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers.
“I have an inherent disdain for laws implemented in the interests of Capital and the unconscionable harms they cause to the poorest and most vulnerable in our societies, especially in the Global South,” Owens told Byline Times. “Similarly, I have a healthy disregard for ethical rules, which enable lawyers acting on behalf of Fossil Capital to facilitate the destruction of human life on the planet and to accelerate the climate and ecological crises.”
The legal industry plays a huge role in proliferating the fossil fuel industry. Exposing the contribution of the legal profession to accelerating the climate crisis, Law Students for Climate Accountability has estimated that leading law firms have facilitated $1,620,000,000,000 ($1.62 trillion) in fossil fuel transactions since 2017. The City of London is understood to support at least 15% of global carbon emissions around the world.
Tim Crosland, Director of the climate justice charity, Plan B.Earth, which backed the Declaration, said: “The UN has said we’re on a “highway to climate hell” and that to get off it, we need to stop new fossil fuel developments now. But behind every new oil and gas deal sits a lawyer getting rich. Many of them in the City of London law firms with strong and historic ties to the fossil fuel industry.”
Crosland pointed out how ” ordinary people” are being prosecuted and jailed “just for talking about the climate crisis and fuel poverty.” “The rule of law has been turned on its head,” Owen told Byline Times. Lawyers are responsible. It’s time to take a stand.”
Members of Insulate Britain were jailed for mentioning the climate crisis in court whilst on trial for civil disobedience. The climate activists had been warned by Judge Silas to stay silent on their motivations for protesting, telling them it was for “history to judge, not the jury”.
However, the defendants said their silence would have been “more dangerous”. A spokesperson for Insulate Britain said at the time that locking people up for “telling the truth in court” was the “mark of an extreme authoritarian regime”.
The signed Declaration supports individuals’ democratic right to peaceful protest. It states that both the Conservative’s Public Order Bill and provision 3 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 “seriously restrict this right”.
Commenting on the Declaration, Michael Mansfield KC said: “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.”
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