To give you a glimpse of the blindingly obvious, I will commence by saying that a lawyer’s ethical responsibilities in the practice of advocacy spring from his or her “paramount” and “overriding” duty to the court, as an officer of the court.

The best-known exposition of this duty is in Rondel v Worsley [1969] 1 AC 191 at 227. It was there said that every counsel has a duty to his or her client to fearlessly raise every issue, advance every argument, and ask every question, however distasteful, which he or she thinks will help the client’s case. However, it was also said that  all of that notwithstanding, the overarching principle is that counsel must not mislead the court.

These two simple propositions break down into a subset of what are all of the well-known ethical guidelines in advocacy. I will deal with some of the more important of these. You no doubt know all of these rules but I sometimes think that first, recognizing them and second, observing them in practice, can prove to be difficult for counsel. It is the nuances that are problematic.

For example, the duty to fearlessly represent does not extend to slavishly following a client’s every wish in advancing evidence or presenting argument. Counsel is independent in presenting a client’s case and must not misuse court time. This means that counsel must refrain from irrelevant cross – examination and from pursuing submissions that are really unarguable, even though the client may wish to chase every rabbit down its burrow, as Mason CJ put it in Giannarelli v Wraith (1988) 165 CLR 543 at 556.

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