Queen's counsel

A barrister or solicitor advocate can apply to become a queen's counsel after at least ten years in practice.

Queen's Counsel are senior lawyers having had at least ten years in practice and are recognised as experts in their area of law. As a Queen's Counsel (QC) you are recognised as having achieved a higher status than your fellow lawyers. You will be able to wear a silk gown in court, hence the term "taking silk" and a QC is  also referred to as a "silk". A QC will often be accompanied into court by at least one junior and will lead his legal team in and out of court. They will take on some of the more complicated legal cases and may also head government inquiries or take the lead in other situations that require the skills of an impartial arbiter. As a QC a barrister has the ability to charge larger fees and many are known to inflate their fees as soon as they have been appointed raising the question of the worthiness of appointing QCs at all.

The very first QC was Francis Bacon appointed in 1594. The first women QCs were appointed in 1949. Until 1995 all QCs had to be barristers but in that year the rules were changed to allow solicitors to take silk.

A reformed system of selection of QC's was implemented in 2004 meaning that applicants could apply via an independent panel.  Previously the selection process had been less open and more inclined to favour a select group of barristers with the 'right contacts'.  The current system means applications are made to an independent panel of lay people and the selection of successful candidates is sent to the Lord Chancellor.  The Lord Chancellor is unable to change the list, his role is simply to put the recommendations to the Queen.

It is hoped that, as more women barristers and barristers from an ethnic background reach the ten year benchmark and gain the experience required, there will be a rise in the number of women and ethnic minority QCs.

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