Why are so many criminal advocates still applying to become QCs?

The fact that the number of criminal advocates who applied for the accolade of Queen’s Counsel fell for the fourth year running is no surprise.

The fact that the number of criminal advocates included in this year’s chosen crop of 100 increased on last year is a surprise.

Last year, 15 of the 84 appointed were criminal advocates; this year they accounted for 26 out of the 100 appointed.

What are we to make of this? At a time when the criminal bar is, we are told, having the pips squeezed out of it, and reportedly fewer cases are getting certificates for leading and junior counsel, why have so many continued to apply for an accolade that could make it harder for them to get work?

Fees paid to silks in the most serious case have been cut by 30% and most have refused to take on the work. Criminal barristers have also signalled their intention to refuse other serious cases paid on graduated fee rates, due to the legal aid cuts. A full day of protest action is planned in March in opposition to the cuts. 

If the bar is saying it cannot work for the rates of pay on offer, why have so many of their number continued to apply for silk?

And what work are these newly appointed elite going to do?

It is notable that none of the solicitors appointed to the elevated rank practises in the field of crime – the five appointed are all commercial lawyers whose practices centre on international arbitration.

According to one commentator on the Gazette website, the rates of pay are so bad that the single suit he has owned for the past 10 years has worn out and he cannot afford another, resulting in his attendance at court in more casual garb.

It this is a taste of things to come? Will we see a new breed of shabby silks, wearing hand-me-down waistcoats, manning picket lines instead of practising the art of silky smooth advocacy in the courtroom?

Catherine Baksi is a Gazette reporter