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Barristers and solicitors - Queen's Counsel
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QCs appointed by the Queen

Queen’s Counsel are approved for confirmation by the Queen, through an independent scheme run by the legal profession instead of the Lord Chancellor.

 

Known as 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 £120,00.

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,
here

 

2005-6 round, the new system

The first of QCs under the new system has been broadly welcomed by the professions.

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 out 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 them”.
 

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 rank.

 

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 been QCs.

 

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 Courtesy Silk.

 

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, about 3 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 honorary Silk.

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