Lord Neuberger delivered the Lord Slynn Memorial Lecture on 15th June 2016 and took as his topic "Ethics and Advocacy in the Twenty First Century". The speech is well worth reading and is on the Supreme Court website here.
The final passage picks up on the issue of ethical training that I explored in my earlier post Legal Ethics 2.0. Lord Neuberger states:
- I would make a plea for greater prominence for ethics in legal training both on University law courses and on professional legal training courses. I have not referred to regulation much in this talk, but one of the downsides of relatively high profile regulation is that it can easily lead to an attractive culture which effectively takes high ethical standards for granted being replaced by a box-ticking approach, in which, provided she can comply with relatively inflexible rules, an advocate feels free to do whatever she likes. Professional ethics cannot always be reduced to simple rules, and if that leads regulators to produce increasingly complex and detailed rules, I wonder whether we are better off as a result.
One of the features of Lord Neuberger's speech is that it makes no direct reference to the BSB's Code of Conduct or indeed that of any other legal regulators who regulate advocacy. This is notwithstanding that each regulator's Code deals with duties in relation to advocacy. Instead he taps the rich vein of court decisions where such issues have arisen. This demonstrates the point he makes above that by seeking to simplify complex issues in rules and codes we can miss the underlying ethical dilemma and risk making the wrong judgment.