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QCs appointed by the Queen
are approved for confirmation by the Queen, through an independent scheme run by the legal profession
instead of the Lord Chancellor.
silk the status of QC is the hallmark of seniority and experience, allowing
practitioners to charge higher fees.
The new system was to increase the pool so that a wider range of
lawyers were awarded the hallmark judged against a new range of
“competencies”. But solicitors and ethnic minority candidates are still in
small proportions: four of 12 solicitor-applicants were successful and ten
out of 24 ethnic minority candidates.
The scheme replaced the “secret soundings” system. The panel considers
evidence from application forms, references and interviews.
A review of the system was first announced in 2003 after criticism that it was one of secret patronage
favouring barristers known to judges; that applicants were finally
approved by the Lord Chancellor — who was a politician as well as head of
the judiciary — and that the rank drove up legal costs.
Under the current system, names from the Selection Panel are passed to the
'Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice' to make his recommendations to the Queen.
The public competition for appointing
Queen’s Counsel (QCs) was introduced in an independent
panel now makes the selection
Previously, the Lord Chancellor
recommended barristers (and solicitors) for appointment as Queen’s Counsel
(referred to as silks in recognition of the silk gown they are entitled to
wear) following consultation with judges and senior practitioners. There
were criticisms that the outcome favoured certain groups.
Under the new scheme, which was developed by the Bar Council and
Law Society, applicants will assess their own suitability to take
silk under seven headings: integrity understanding and use of the law
analysis of case material persuasiveness response to the development of a
case working with the client teamwork.
Applicants must provide the names of 24 referees
who have recently seen them
at work, including 12 judges or arbitrators, fellow
practitioners or professional clients.
The process is required to be self
financing. For the current competition the fee payable on application is
£2,500 plus VAT. A further fee of £3,000 plus VAT is payable
on appointment (over and above the fee necessary to cover the cost of
letters patent and of the appointment ceremony). QC’s in previous years were earning not less than
The Selection Panel includes a retired senior judge and other
eminent persons drawn from the law and lay professions. The
'Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State
for Justice' (the Lord Chancellor) will
transmit the panel’s recommendations to the Queen. Solicitors, barristers
and employed lawyers with suitable advocacy experience may apply.
Currently, eight solicitors are QCs.
The procedure whereby a barrister Member of Parliament who becomes a
Minister is automatically made a QC appears not to have been changed.
Selection panel’s website,
2005-6 round, the new system
The first of QCs under the new system has been broadly welcomed by the
More women 33, more people from ethnic minorities and more solicitors than before were among the record 175 appointments
announced by the Department for Constitutional Affairs (20 July 2006).
Female applicants had an almost even chance of being appointed, with 33 of
the 68 applicants successful. Those applicants who said they belonged to
an ethnic minority had a 42 per cent chance of being appointed, while four
of the 12 solicitor-advocate applicants made it through.
The number of female applicants is
still low, and that fact in part probably reflects some enduring prejudice
against, or pressures on, females in earlier parts of their careers.
In the seventeenth-century Lord Coke stated that
women could not be attorneys. In a case in 1914 the lawyers of a woman who
attempted to become a solicitor accepted in law " ... there is no place for
Traditional Silk awards
Courtesy Silk - defunct for MPs
One of the privileges of becoming a Member of Parliament (MP) was the
award of "Courtesy Silk" to barristers who were elected MPs. The
practice ended in the 1990s, as it was felt that automatically granting
Silk without considering the recipient's abilities as an advocate devalued
The current selection process, means there
are no plans to revive it.
The one remaining area of Courtesy Silk -
AGs and SGs
Newly appointed Law Officers (Attorney General and his deputy the
Solicitor General) are awarded the rank as a courtesy title on taking up
their Ministerial post if they are not already QCs in their own right.
Traditionally, both the Attorney General (AG) and the Solicitor General (SG)
were MPs who were also barristers, so they would already have been
courtesy QCs by the time they were appointed.
More recently, there have been changes: the last two Attorney-Generals
have been members of the House of Lords (currently
Lord Goldsmith since 2001 - ; previously Lord
Williams of Mostyn 1999 - 2001), and
the last two Solicitor-Generals (currently Mike O'Brien 2005 - ;
previously Harriet Harman 2001-2005) have been solicitors. With the
withdrawal of courtesy Silk for MPs, and its never having applied to peers
who were barristers, newly appointed Law Officers would not already have
In the case of the recent AGs, this presented no problem because both were
already QCs. Neither of the most recent SGs, however, was a Silk.
The Secretary of State (previously the Lord Chancellor) therefore
recommended to the Queen that they be granted the courtesy rank of QC.
This was to provide continuity with past Law Officers and to ensure that
both Law Officers had the same status when appearing in court as advocates
for the Government. This practice is likely to be followed in the future.
Honorary Silk (honoris causa)
Honorary Silk (Queen's Counsel honoris causa), is a separate honour
awarded to people who have made a major contribution to the law of England
and Wales outside practice in the courts, and is completely separate from
In recent years Honorary Silk has been awarded most often to law
professors, sometimes historians and parliamentary counsel, the pool of
recipients is not large,
or 4 each year.
The independent Selection Panel's role is confined to recommendations of
awards for the working rank, so it has no part in either courtesy or
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