A group of more than 120 leading UK lawyers, known collectively as “Lawyers Are Responsible“, has published a “Declaration of Conscience“. With this document, the lawyers pledge not to work for new fossil fuel projects or prosecute the members of organizations campaigning against said projects, such as the environmental organization Extinction Rebellion (XR), the environmental group Insulate Britain, the UK anti-oil-group coalition Just Stop Oil.
“The IPCC has warned that continuing with implemented emissions policies will lead to projected global warming of 3.2°C this century. We are looking at a global catastrophe. The UK needs to divest from fossil fuels and invest in alternatives far more rapidly than we are. It is imperative that everyone, including lawyers, does what they can to make this happen,” said Matt Hutchings KC, one of the lawyers who drafted the Declaration. This initiative was launched a week after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) ‘s final instalment, highlighting the need to reach zero CO2 emissions to limit anthropogenic global warming.
Backers and signatories
The UK environmental charity Plan B and the British not-for-profit campaign organization Good Law Project have backed this initiative. According to Plan B, “This is understood to be the first time in legal history that barristers have engaged in a collective act of civil disobedience”.
“We must not stand by and help new fossil fuel projects into existence.”
Among the more than 120 lawyers taking part in this initiative is the Chair of the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR), Sir Geoffrey Bindman KC, and the environmental lawyer Farhana Yamin who was one of the key architects of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The legal coordinator of the global campaign World’s Youth for Climate (WY4CJ) Aoife Fleming, the Professor of Law at Gresham College and human rights lawyer Leslie Thomas KC, and the founder of the Good Law Project, Jolyon Maugham KC are also among the signatories.
What is going to happen now?
The lawyers that have taken part in this initiative face the prospect of disciplinary action for breach of professional regulations, requiring members of this profession to take on any case within their competence. Several lawyers belonging to the “Lawyers Are Responsible” group have self-reported to the regulatory body for lawyers and specialised legal service businesses in England and Wales, the Bar Standards Board (BSB).
“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. For the time being, these firms remain as reputable as Harvey Weinstein before #MeToo. Meanwhile, it’s the ordinary people of this country, taking a stand against this greed and destruction that the British legal system prosecutes and imprisons, jailing them just for talking about the climate crisis and fuel poverty. The rule of law has been turned on its head. Lawyers are responsible. It’s time to take a stand,” said Tim Crosland, director of Plan B.Earth, in a statement.