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

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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

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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.

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17 Comments

Not Amused

“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”

I think the problem stems from the belief that eating a bacon sandwich in full wig is somehow ‘rebellious’. I suspect the very issue is that far too many of these middle aged, middle class, people come from a generation of teenagers who enjoyed ‘sticking it to the man’.

The problem is that that sort of rebellion really ought to be confined to the teenage years. No amount of forced jockularity will detract from the fact that it is an obviously silly picture. No amount of cute or colloquial use of language can make a member of the establishment any less a member of the establishment. When Baroness Trumpington sticks up two fingers in the house of Lords we might say that the veteran of Bletchley Park and established peer has earned the right. If a fresh faced newly ennobled peer did the same on his first day we might very well think his rebellion childish and undignified.

Silks acting like teenagers on silk day are rather more like William Hague in a baseball cap than Sid Vicious and members of the establishment, even those who have earned that position on merit, should at least consider behaving with dignity to begin with.

“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”

We’ll leave aside the crushing level of condescension displayed by this comment and focus instead on the rather odd argument it postulates – only QCs can hector (hold accountable) judges? Well for a start I’m sure that will be a terrible relief to our legal academic community. No longer the hard work and sweat of explaining why the latest ramblings of their lordships makes no sense in a variety of journals.

Beyond that relief we might question what on earth this suggestion actually means in a democratic society? When I am rude about the judiciary in this comment section do I need to append QC to my nickname? When journalists wish to question a case should they instead wait until they’re allowed to wear stockings? When a dodgy business man with a weak case instructs a silk against the junior on the other side, should the junior step aside because he cannot hector the judge?

Of course not, the argument is bizarre. We have the concept of silk because we need it and it’s great at what it is; but elevating it beyond that seems decidedly odd.

Moreover if silks actually did hector the judiciary we might live in a slightly better world. Or perhaps Mr Maugham has already secured the repeal of the Jackson ‘reforms’, the reinstatement of legal aid and a reduction in the 10 grand issue fee?

(16)(14)

Anonymous

You are Judge John Hack and I claim my five pounds.

(6)(1)

Barry McG

If something can be shown to “increase diversity”, it must be accepted as a Good Thing. If it cannot, it must be replaced. The tendency to increase diversity, or diminish it, is the ultimate test of everything. All other arguments are of little or no relevance. Well done to this new silk for so bravely defending the QC system in this way.

(13)(5)

Anonymous

Not sure if sarcastic or serious…

(0)(1)

Anonymous

Sarcastic

(2)(0)

Annie Onimouse

“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. ”

Well yes, you were and I for one agree with the Legal Cheek commentary.

But it’s not just about that, it is about voluntarily choosing to appear in an undignified image (seeing other people eating is never pleasant at the best of times) whilst wearing formal robes reserved for a formal occasion. It is demeaning to you and demeaning to the formality of the office and formal robes.

You wouldn’t expect to see the Queen in a Crown and ermine in McDonalds would you? Because she occupies an official office and appreciates that requires certain standards of public behaviour.

It’s not about “toeing the line” ; it’s about proper respect for a formal office and a formal appointment. Maybe you should realise that it’s actually not all about you and your sad little bacon sandwich.

(12)(5)

Anonymous

Silk want to be a silk. Silk wants people to know he is a silk so tweets photo of himself as silk. Silk doesn’t want people to think he takes himself too seriously so he tweets himself

(5)(0)

Anonymous

…eating bacon sandwich in his wig – hilarious. All rather embarrassing as display of insecure vanity and probably demeaning to status of silks generally.

(10)(2)

Anonymous

60% women, 42% ethnic minority candidates, 38% men.
Can’t wait for the days of X % men and X % women.

(1)(2)

Simon Myerson QC

I’ve been in Silk for 12 years. I don’t regard myself as demeaned by seeing this picture. Perhaps I’m not self-important enough, but Mrs M would certainly not say so.

The system works because it recognises more than academic qualifications and rewards experience and ability. If you think that’s a bad idea, you need to ask yourself why.

(6)(3)

Anonymous

Exactly. The silk system may be an inexact science that can be criticised in various ways but the notion that it’s somehow ‘broken’ is bullshit. I have not encountered any silks who didn’t have serious ability. Some had absolutely no people skills and are total tossers, but they have all been first rate lawyers. Additionally, giving people grief for posting light-hearted pictures of themselves at one point on a day of pomp and circumstance is priggish and twatty. Let him enjoy his bacon sandwich. It’s not like he blew his nose on his letters patent.

(5)(1)

Not Amused

The only thing I need to ask is why a silk is setting up his own strawmen in order to so heroically knock them down.

Obviously we can all take our own view on just how side splittingly funny teenage silk day is. Those who wish to do so can no doubt subscribe to the relevant podcast or you tube channel and guffaw themselves silly.

But don’t lazily conflate two arguments. One is Jolyon looking a bit silly. The other is the flaws in the appointment system; and you really need to be a hemp wearing Guardianista to start defending the current system. It was a noble attempt to correct some perceived injustices. I don’t think it’s worked, I think we can point out why it has not worked. It has certainly led to the greatest ever concentration of silks at the Bar. It’s clearly harmed the judiciary and *still* hasn’t got us any damn women in the Supreme Court; but let’s just ignore all that because we think Jolyon was actually being hilarious and any way Simon says he’s a bloody good chap.

(1)(2)

Anonymous

Who conflated two arguments? I said the system is not perfect but I don’t think it’s broken. I then said that the criticism of him eating a bacon sandwich is haughty and a bit sad. I didn’t associate the two in any way, shape or form. Moreover, your suggestion that the continued existence of the silk system has harmed the judiciary and has stymied diversity in the Supreme Court has no evidential basis (would a system where there was no tier of senior counsel really impact on this?) and, ironically enough, conflates a number of issues. This whole topic seems to be Legal Cheek reheating a stale discussion to try to generate content – talking loud and saying nothing.

(2)(0)

Jack of Kent

So familarised are we with the daftness of such wiggery, we think the odd thing in the pic is the bacon sandwich.

A person in a long eighteenth-century horsehair wig is eating a bacon sandwich; it it really the sandwich which is out of place?

(3)(0)

Simon Myerson QC

On the day Silks are sworn in, yes. Who cares?

Also, as someone who has stood next to a family of criminals at a bus stop, whilst they discussed what they would like to do to the prosecutor (me) in graphic terms, without one of them recognising me, I’ve a soft spot for the wig. Criminal Courts, particularly, need a bit of awe about them or there would be too many riots.

(3)(0)

Mustafa Pee

All you Kuffar, hear me and the Prophet’s word, that man is eating unclean meat – it is haram. The sandwich is indeed the thing that is out of place. (The hair piece….hmm, actually I quite like it. Would go well with my beard.)

(4)(0)

cjr1968

I want a bacon sandwich now.

(3)(0)

Comments are closed.