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Magic circle commercial sets were snubbed with a tiny presence on the Lord Chancellor's list of new silks.
Brick Court, Fountain Court and One Essex Court are in shock at the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine's announcement last Thursday (12 April) that not one of their junior barristers have been given silk.
However, nationwide criminal barristers have done amazingly well, with 22 being appointed silk, followed by personal injury (PI) and related work with nine appointments, then chancery/commercial and family with eight.
It has raised concerns among senior bar sources that the selection system is not sufficiently transparent and that the Lord Chancellor works to a set agenda.
One senior chambers source says: "I haven't a clue how the Lord Chancellor's selection process really works. One year you're told it works one way, then another year it's different. It has to be open."
Brick Court Chambers is particularly disappointed, claiming that one of its two applicants, who has not been named, is the highest-earning junior commercial barrister and so should definitely have been given silk. A source says: "He was easily practising a silk's practice without the recognition of having initials after his name."
The Lord Chancellor's decision not to select commercial barrister Laurence Rabinowitz of One Essex Court has been criticised from various senior sources at the bar. Rabinowitz is understood to have applied twice for silk, although the set has not confirmed this. One source says: "There's no way that Laurence should have been rejected." Another says: "I'm pretty amazed Laurence wasn't selected. He's a first-rate brain and a first-rate all-rounder. A decade ago, if you applied for silk from a top commercial set, then you would've got it first time. But to apply twice from such a set and not get it is amazing."
Surprise was also raised that One Essex Court's John McCaughran has been denied. He is rumoured to have applied three times, but again this was not confirmed by his set.
Some say that the Lord Chancellor feels there are already too many commercial silks. However, a source says: "This is perverse logic - the criticism is that commercial silks' fees are too high, but stopping them from getting silk pushes their fees even higher."
Geraldine Andrews and Graham Dunning of Essex Court Chambers, who have both applied in the past, are the only promotions from among the magic circle sets. Senior clerk David Grief says: "We've consistently managed to get one or two silks appointed over the last five years. But go back 10 years and we had no silks at all. It's just the way it goes."
Thomas Beazley and Monica Carss-Frisk of Blackstone Chambers have been appointed, bringing the set's silk total to 27.
Ian Murphy's 9 Park Place in Cardiff grossed three promotions - chancery specialists John Jarman and Geraint Jones and crime barrister Gregg Taylor. Senior clerk James Williams says it is the first time three silks have been appointed in a year.