The Cab Rank Rule

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Research Essay


Australia has taken from English Law in adopting the cab rank rule, encoded in The Victorian Bar Incorporated Practice Rules 2009 (Vic). This essay will discuss the application of the rule, the strengths and weaknesses and will conclude to discuss why the rule should remain an integral part of the Bar despite many calls for its abolition.

What is the “cab rank principle”?

The cab rank rule states that a lawyer practicing solely as a barrister must accept a brief in a field they profess to practice. Barristers are professionally bound by this duty if the brief is in the barrister’s capacity, skill and expertise; the barrister is available to appear and is not committed to other engagements which may inhibit
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The second rationale behind the cab rank rule is that is protects barristers from adverse consequences that could arise from accepting a contentious brief. A barrister may be subjected to public scrutiny or criticism from those who believe the barrister is sympathizing with a repugnant criminal. Yet, with the existence of the cab rank rule, the obligation to accept the brief provides the barrister with a justification. In theory, this is an essential strength of the cab rank rule, however, in practice in may be redundant. This rationale is on the premise that the layperson is aware of the cab rank rule, a proposition that is far from the truth. In 2010, Brian Walters, a QC, was running for the Greens and his Labor opponent attacked him for once taking a brief for a brown coal company. The fact that a politician is not aware of the cab rank rule suggests that members of the general public would also be unaware of the rule, thereby denying barristers the protection the rule purports to give.

Lastly, a barrister must refuse to accept a brief if they would be placed in a conflict of interest or would otherwise be detrimental to the administration of justice. However, the barrister holding strong moral views inconsistent with the subject matter is not reasonable ground to refuse a brief. If the client still wishes to proceed despite the barrister’s
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