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Call for QC rank to be widened to all lawyers, not just advocates

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Restricting the gong is unfair and a block to diversity in the modern profession, says legal executives group

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Queen’s Counsel — the highest rank for advocates in the UK — should be more widely available across the legal profession, the body representing legal executives proposed today.

The radical move to allow all lawyers — not just those qualified to appear in the higher courts — to apply for the rank is likely to ruffle feathers at the top reaches of the bar, and potentially the Law Society.

The call could also reignite the on-going debate over the value of the title in general, with the QC award process continuing to attract criticism for being too much of an old boys’ club.

According to the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) — which represents 20,000 practitioners — widening the eligibility for QC “could lead to improved diversity”.

The CILEx proposals came in a response to a consultation on QC eligibility. In it, the organisation said:

“There is still too much emphasis on advocacy. In some areas of law advocacy is rare. It is the capacity to be an excellent lawyer and not only a good advocate that is essential for the role.”

CILEx chief executive Mandie Lavin continued:

“QCs are amongst the highest profile figures of the legal profession, though they are not always reflective of our diversity and make-up. Broadening the pool of candidates, whilst continuing to appoint on merit, will give the QC title greater validity and respect.”

Until 1994, the non-honorary QC rank was the exclusive preserve of barristers. But when elements of the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 were implemented, qualified High Court solicitor-advocates became eligible.

The first two solicitors were appointed in 1997 and five were given the nod in the most recent round out of a total of 93 awards made.

The CILEx consultation response also highlighted the high cost becoming a silk, with successful applications setting lawyers back around £6,000. The organisation called for a review of the fees “to prevent them becoming prohibitive”.

CILEx also called for a QC re-accreditation scheme to be implemented to maintain public confidence in the ongoing value of the rank — which currently is held for life, regardless of silks’ performance levels.