Bishop & Sewell

As a Commercial Law lawyer, I can probably count on the fingers of one hand cases throughout my career in which our client did a 180 degree about face before a case was settled. Sometimes of course there is more than one opposing view, for example when there are multiple different parties, and in fairness that’s when we, as lawyers can best earn our fee, by steering our client to a position which we know would be upheld by a court, writes David Little, a Partner in our Corporate and Commercial department.

As solicitors we can also choose to not take on cases which we believe to lack merit. The same is not true of barristers. According to Bar Standards Board: “The ‘cab rank’ rule means a barrister must take a case that is within their knowledge and expertise provided they are free to do so, no matter how unpalatable the case.

“Although there are practical exceptions, it means that everyone has the chance to be represented by a barrister of their choice, which in turn ensures a fair trial.”

Those accused of violent crimes such as rape and terrorism could struggle to find appropriate legal representation if the ‘cab rank’ rule was abolished, the Bar Standards Board believes. And occasionally, my barrister friends, mostly in the Criminal Law can do little if their client reverses their plea, perhaps in the face of damning evidence against them, in order to face a lesser sentence.

The criticism earlier this month of Rishi Sunak, the UK’s newest Prime Minister was damning, in the face of Downing Street’s declaration that he was ‘too busy’, attending to domestic matters, to attend COP27 this weekend.

His decision to attend, after all, is a U turn, and in media circles more popularly known as a ‘reverse ferret’, a sudden reversal in an organisation’s editorial or political line on a certain issue. Generally, this will involve no acknowledgement of the previous position.

It’s such a great phrase, so familiar to many of my generation, but where does the term originate? The good people of Wikipedia describe it thus: The term originates from Kelvin MacKenzie’s time at The Sun. His preferred description of the role of journalists when it came to public figures was to “stick a ferret up their trousers”. This meant making their lives uncomfortable and was based on the supposed Northern England stunt of ferret-legging (where contestants compete to show who can endure a live ferret within their sealed trousers the longest). When it became clear that the tide of public opinion had turned against the paper’s line, MacKenzie would burst from his office shouting, “Reverse ferret!” The phrase moved into general usage after it became a catchphrase in Private Eye magazine, initially in its ‘Street of Shame’ section but which quickly spread throughout its more satirical pages.

“In 2014, the Mayor of New York performed a literal reverse ferret when he repealed a ban on owning domesticated ferrets within the city. Republican leaders’ affirmation of support for Donald Trump – hitherto derided by Republicans competing with him for nomination as Republican presidential candidate – in October 2016, was described as a ‘reverse ferret’ by The New York Times.

Good sense appears to have prevailed at least in Downing Street, and the Prime Minister will attend the world’s most important conference on global environmental co-operation which starts this weekend in Sharm el-Sheikh. Given it’s less than 12 months since the UK hosted COP26 in Glasgow, urging almost 200 nations to commit to becoming carbon Net Zero by 2050, a reverse ferret on climate change would have been morally unjustified, but – and this is why I suspect Rishi Sunak is attending – a missed opportunity to demonstrate to the world that the UK is keen to play a leading economic role in helping to save the planet.

New technologies, new industries, new jobs are all at stake here.

As soon-to-be US President, Bill Clinton’s election strategist told him in 1992, what mattered most to voters: “It’s the economy, stupid.” A lesson one suspects Downing Street has not forgotten.

Contact our Corporate & Commercial Team

David Little is a Partner at Bishop & Sewell in our expert Corporate & Commercial team. If you would like to contact him please quote Ref CB361 on either 020 7631 4141 or email

The above is accurate as at 04 November 2022. The information above may be subject to change during these ever-changing times.

The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Category: Blog, News | Date: 4th Nov 2022

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