Perhaps the time has come again to think about whether QC status is relevant any more? The responses of the Bar Council and the Law Society to the QC Appointments (QCA) panel’s suggestions for improving the application and appointment process for taking silk have so far generated more questions than answers. But perhaps they miss the point.
The Law Society believes requiring applicants to list all their significant cases, rather than a select few as they currently do, will reduce the need for solicitors to ask a judge for a reference – something they may not feel comfortable with due to the perceived ‘barrister bias’ in the judiciary. The Bar Council disagrees, saying the proposals could disadvantage people who have turned down work because of caring responsibilities.
In short, the bar believes the current system generally works well, while solicitors favour change. A cynic would suggest that these positions reflect the relative numbers of barristers and solicitors in the ranks of QCs.
When the consultation concludes it is safe to say that either little will change, and solicitors will continue to make up a tiny proportion of QCs, or barristers will suddenly find the application process is not to their taste.
Perhaps, rather than mulling over potential changes that will leave one party disappointed, it’s time to scrap the whole thing altogether?
This is not a novel suggestion. In 2006, three years after the appointment process was temporarily suspended, former Law Society president Fiona Woolf said she would prefer to go down the route of specialist accreditation in a certain sector of law rather than a blanket QC status.
The current appointment process is certainly an improvement on the alleged ‘secret soundings’ (a judge’s wink or good word) upon which QCs were historically appointed. The selection panel comprises lay members, barristers and solicitors. Perhaps those lay members should be asked whether seeing QC next to a lawyer’s name would mean anything to them. Other than the inflated fees of course.
What do Gazette readers think?