Richard Wilson's blog

richardcameronwilson AT yahoo dot co dot UK

In defence of flashmobs…

with 2 comments

Jack of Kent has written a characteristically thoughtful blogpost about this week’s ‘flashmob’ protest outside Carter Ruck’s offices. Here is my response, which I’ve also posted as a comment on the article itself:

Thanks for this post, David. As one of those involved in this week’s Carter Ruck protest I’m happy to debate the wider questions that you rightly point out such tactics raise.

In my view, companies who abuse human rights and/or pose a threat to democracy need to be named and shamed. This would surely include an oil company whose negilence led to 18 deaths and 30,000 injuries, and who then fought tooth and nail to silence media coverage of the issue. But it would also, I believe, include a legal firm who sought to advance their client’s interests by exploiting a demonstrably unjust law in order to suppress the right to freedom of speech. Should such a firm then seek to do the same by using similarly unjust laws to attack the fundamental underpinnings of the liberal democracy in which they exist, it is then time, in my view, for ordinary people to get on the streets and challenge them directly.

Carter Ruck this week sought, on behalf of their client, to use the law to prevent media coverage of Parliamentary proceedings. They then wrote to both the Speaker of the House of Commons, and every MP, in an apparent attempt to stop next week’s debate on freedom of speech. This was not the normal behaviour of a law firm in a healthy liberal democracy. In my view, these were political actions, and they were political actions characteristic of a dictatorial regime, not a free and open society. If a law firm starts playing politics (whether or not they do so on the instructions of a client), I believe that they then become a legitimate target for peaceful political protest.

Many people were killed, tortured or imprisoned to win and defend the democratic rights that we still largely enjoy in this country.  These freedoms are now in danger, and our democracy has already been outrageously degraded by the attacks we’ve seen on civil and political rights over the last decade. If we want to remain a largely liberal and democratic society, rather than sliding slowly towards some form of corrupt pseudo-democracy, I believe that we will need to start mobilising political action now against all those now chipping away at our democratic traditions – including, where necessary, law firms.

I don’t believe there is an absolute dividing line between liberal democratic societies and tyrannical ones. A largely liberal democracy may have unjust laws on its statute books, such as the law which led to the prosecution for homosexuality of one of our national heroes, Alan Turing, within living memory of our grandparents’ generation. More recently, it was still possible to be prosecuted in this country for “blasphemy”. Today, someone who writes an entirely truthful article about another living person can be spuriously prosecuted under a libel law which, due to the financial cost of obtaining adequate legal representation, effectively denies many defendants their right to a fair trial.

Where a lawyer chooses to collaborate with the enforcement of an unjust, undemocratic law, they cannot, in my view, insulate themselves from the moral consequences of that choice, even if they are working within a still-largely-democratic society, even if they are acting on the instructions of a client.

I fully agree that cheap shots at the entire legal profession are lazy and unhelpful, but in a way that’s exactly my point. Lawyers are (notwithstanding those cheap shots) human beings. Human beings are moral agents. Moral agents make choices for which they are morally responsible, including choices within their professional lives. Perhaps it’s true that some other lawyers would have done exactly the same as Carter Ruck did this week, but I know that there are many others who would have refused, and would have done so not on legal grounds but on moral ones. In a situation where, as we are now seeing, what is legally acceptable begins to drift away from what is morally right, the role of individual conscience becomes crucially important.

About these ads

Written by Richard Wilson

October 18, 2009 at 11:44 am

2 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Thanks for this and well said. I would add that what Carter Ruck are engaged in goes above and beyond simple representation of their client. They have been instrumental in the use and expansion of superinjunctions, pushing the boundaries of our libel laws to the point where they are now undermining Parliamentary integrity. THIS is why there are protests against them AS WELL AS protests against Trafigura and campaigns to reform our libel laws to prevent exactly these kinds of exploitative practices.

    I have no time for the argument that law firms are some how immune from public protest or mere pawns in corporate litigation cases. It is possible defend the right in adequate legal representation at the same time as protesting against a firms overstepping of the mark. This would apply to any other profession. Yes, doctors have a duty of care but the profession has still condemned the actions of those doctors involved in the ill-treatment of Guantanamo detainees, for example.

    This principle is also, I believe, the basis on which some are suggesting that Carter Ruck be reported to the Law Society (although I don’t know the details of this).

    Naomi Mc

    October 18, 2009 at 11:11 pm

  2. Johnathan Swift had a few telling comments about the legal profession in Gulliver’s Travels. Although published in 1726-7 there is a peculiar resonance in Gulliver’s description:

    “I said, “there was a society of men among us, bred up from their youth in the art of proving, by words multiplied for the purpose, that white is
    black, and black is white, according as they are paid. To this society all the rest of the people are slaves.

    “It is a maxim among these lawyers that whatever has been done before,may legally be done again: and therefore they take special care to record all the decisions formerly made against common justice, and the general reason of mankind. These, under the name of precedents, they produce as authorities to justify the most iniquitous opinions; and the judges never
    fail of directing accordingly.

    “In pleading, they studiously avoid entering into the merits of the cause; but are loud, violent, and tedious, in dwelling upon all circumstances which are not to the purpose…

    “It is likewise to be observed, that this society has a peculiar cant and jargon of their own, that no other mortal can understand, and wherein all their laws are written, which they take special care to multiply; whereby they have wholly confounded the very essence of truth and falsehood, of
    right and wrong;”

    [From Part IV, Chapter 5 – which is worth reading in full, http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/829%5D

    Robin Croft

    October 20, 2009 at 7:44 am


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: