Ethos and the Core Duties of a barrister
When you consider how important honesty, integrity and ethos are to the credibility and persuasiveness of an advocate, it is unsurprising that ethics is taught to trainee barristers; ethics has formed a key component of advocacy training for the last 2000 years. If you are intending to go the BPTC route you will cover ethics as part of your course. If you are a transferring lawyer, and you haven't studied professional ethics before (ie because you have previously worked as a legal academic rather than a legal practitioner), then you will need to get hold of a copy of the Professional Ethics Bar Manual, which you can buy online. Not all transferring lawyers will need to study and pass an exam ethics; its an optional module on the BTT and the BSB will advise you on whether you need to or not. However, whether you do an Ethics exam or not, all barristers need to know and be able to apply the following Core Duties of a barrister.
The ten Core Duties are:
- Core Duty 1: You must observe your duty to the court in the administration of justice.
- Core Duty 2: You must act in the best interests of each client.
- Core Duty 3: You must act with honesty and integrity.
- Core Duty 4: You must maintain your independence.
- Core Duty 5: You must not behave in a way which is likely to diminish the trust and confidence which the public places in you or in the profession.
- Core Duty 6: You must keep the affairs of each client confidential.
- Core Duty 7: You must provide a competent standard of work and service to each client.
- Core Duty 8: You must not discriminate unlawfully against any person.
- Core Duty 9: You must be open and co-operative with your regulators.
- Core Duty 10: You must take reasonable steps to manage your practice, or carry out your role within your practice, competently and in such a way as to achieve compliance with your legal and regulatory obligations.
One useful tip is to have an ethics checklist, and when you run across an ethical problem or issue, then run through each core duty in the checklist and identify which one's may apply. For example:
- If I do X will I be in breach of my duty to the court in the administration of justice? If yes, stop and go and ask the advice of someone more senior, whose advice you trust. This is the over-riding objective so you can't get this one wrong.
- If I do X will I be acting in the best interests of my client? Am I prioritising my interests or the interests of someone else here, over my clients interests? If yes, then you will probably be in breach of CD 2. Seek advice from someone more senior whose opinion you trust.
- If I do X will I be acting with honesty and integrity? If I told someone who's opinion is important to me what I had done or was thinking of doing, would they be proud of what I'd done or would they think badly of me? Would I blush when telling them? If yes, then you will probably be in breach of CD3. Talk to someone senior whose opinion you trust, particularly if you think you have acted badly. The more mortified you are the more it is important you tell someone. Be honest. Everyone makes mistakes and so long as you are upfront most inadverdent mistakes can be corrected. Bear in mind that if you lose your reputation for integrity you will never get it back, and your career at the Bar will be pretty much over as a dishonest advocate is neither trusted nor persuasive.
- If I do X or accept X then will my independence be compromised? Will doing X make Y think that they can dictate what my advice should be? If yes, then you are probably in breach of CD4. Again, avoid at all costs if you want a career at the Bar. Independance and integrity are inextricably linked.
- If I do X is that likely to diminish the trust and confidence which the public places in me or in the profession? If yes, then you may be in breach of CD5. Take advice.
- If I do X then will that breach my clients duty of confidentiality? If yes, then this may be a breach of CD6. Use your judgment.
- If I do X then will I be failing to provide a competent standard of work and service to my client? If yes, then this may be a breach of CD7. If you are struggling due to ill health or as a result of major life events, speak to your chambers and work out a way that the client can receive a competent standard of work and have their interests protected and you can get the support you need. Look after yourself, as in doing so you can better serve your clients and those who rely on you.
- If I do X then am I discriminating directly or indirectly against person Y? If yes, then this may be a breach of CD8, unless it can be justified in some way.
- If I do or don't do X am I being open and co-operative with my regulators? If no, then this may be a breach of CD9.
- Have I taken reasonable steps to manage my practice, or carry out my role within my practice, competently and in such a way as to achieve compliance with my legal and regulatory obligations? If no, then this may be a breach of CD10.