Freshly-minted QC defends silk system – and bacon buttie picture

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By Jolyon Maugham QC on

Jolyon Maugham of Middle Temple’s Devereux Chambers rebuts Judge John Hack’s diatribe against tradition, maintaining the silk road is a positive step towards greater diversity


First, a confession: the asshat in horsehair tucking into a bacon sandwich and occupying pride of photographic place in Legal Cheek’s attack yesterday on the QC system was me.

I tweeted the photo to my largely Labour leaning followers under the banner ‘Bacon Sandwich Caption Competition.’ You can see the entries here.

Having pinched my photo from Twitter, Judge John Hack then added to his misdeeds by failing to name me. I can only guess he sweetly (if erroneously) thought to spare my blushes.

A further editorial failing was the implicit suggestion that by eating a bacon sandwich in my horsehair I was somehow undermining the dignity of the status of Queen’s Counsel. Lawd save us all — and especially Legal Cheek’s advertising department — from the day it sees its editorial future in tacit tickings-off for those who don’t toe the line.

But what of the QC system itself?

It was rescued from contemplated abolition in the mid-noughties by the contention that allowing it to die would block a rare avenue of advancement for ethnic minority and other under-represented groups.

Whilst critics point to the preponderance of ageing white males — amongst whose sullied number I count myself — in the class of successful applicants, the real problem lies otherwise than in the appointments process.

Some 60% of women who applied in the latest round were successful, as were 42% of ethnic minority candidates, compared with 38% of men. The QC selection panel can only do so much to counteract the failure of the profession to retain women at the bar.

And it cannot control the over-representation of ethnic minority barristers in the economically-commoditised publicly-funded bar. There are powerful criticisms to be made of the diversity of the senior bar – but these cannot be laid at the door of the selection panel or its process.

And me? During my day of ritualised bowing and scraping at the QC ceremony earlier this week, I was struck by this thought: a living, dynamic legal system requires challenge. But you can’t run a legal system if any be-spotted Bryce with a double first regards himself as empowered to hector judges.

What the silk system does is require advocates to demonstrate judgement, intelligence and sensitivity. It then liberates them — because the imprimatur cannot be removed — to exercise those qualities to provide that challenge. To be the buffeting wind that encourages the law to grow stronger. I think that’s a good thing.

And the caption competition? As yet, no prize has been awarded — but there’s a nice bottle (or given your readership, two cheap ones) to the winner.


Why it’s time to scrap the QC title [Legal Cheek]