On the same day that one QC left court by the wrong entrance, the Queen has selected 84 new lawyers to be one of ‘Her Majesty’s Counsel, learned in the law’. The list was published on 27th February, but what does this mean for the 84? Is it all ceremonial, or does it actually make a difference to their day to day life?
QC is a title that is short for Queen’s Counsel. They are often referred to as ‘silks’ due to the special silk gown that they are entitled to wear (see picture above). It is different to the ‘ordinary’ one worn by barristers (more details here, courtesy of Wikipedia).
Brief Historical Overview
Historically, a QC (Queen’s Counsel), or KC (King’s Counsel) when the monarch is male, were the monarch’s legal officers (Attorney-General and Solicitor-General and the King’s Serjeants). It gradually developed into being a ‘kitemark’ awarded to the top 10% of so of advocates who could appear before the higher courts (now including solicitors as well as barristers).
What are the benefits?
It is still a ‘kitemark’, a badge of excellence. We will only look at the difference in relation to crime. Here, QCs do get paid more – see here for the payment schedules for different advocates in defence cases, and here for prosecution.
It will also make a difference to the sort of work that they do. A defendant on legal aid can apply to the Court to have a QC representing them. The exact regulations are complex, but it will only be granted in cases that are particularly serious and/or complex, for example, a murder or a complex fraud. This is why if you are hunting for silks, the Old Bailey is a good place to start.
How are they appointed?
A QC is no longer appointed by the Queen or by the Government, but by an independent panel, in a process that is supposed to be transparent and based on merit (although they are still appointed in the name of the Queen on the advice of the Lord Chancellor – neither of those people play an actual role in the process).
It’s a complicated process that requires a lengthy form and numerous references. An overview can be found here.
Is it free to apply?
No. And it is not cheap – in 2013 it was £2,340 just to apply (non refundable if you are unsuccessful). If you do get appointed, you have to cough up a further £4,200, plus about eighty quid for the letters patent.
What are the honoris causa QCs?
‘Honoris causa’ is Latin for ‘for the sake of honour’. Every year there are normally a few people who are awarded this. It is the equivalent of an ‘honoury degree’ the some universities offer, and is given to people such as academic lawyers who have made a significant contribution to the study of law but are not practicing lawyers.