At a 45-minute press conference this morning on the future of the silks system, the Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer managed to make one Government policy U-turn and reverse hundreds of years of tradition.
Not bad for a morning’s outing which, as ever, was replete with his cosy bedside manner, smiling face and occasional joke.
The U-turn is simply that Lord Falconer intends keeping the QC scheme after all. Probably – so much of the detail has still to be resolved that it is far from clear what will be conferred by the new accreditation scheme. He has also wiped out centuries of tradition by divesting the Government of responsibility for the selection process.
This new system involves all decisions on the selection of future silks being handed from the Lord Chancellor to the Bar Council and the Law Society – although he will retain a final right of veto over nominated candidates. Those that pass his scrutiny will form an elite cadre of advocates entitled to higher pay.
Although whether handing the whole process of appointment to the profession’s representative bodies is really likely to dispel the longstanding and well-founded allegations of cronyism remains to be seen.
In a final handing over of power, Lord Falconer also reluctantly admitted that, while the dress code required for barristers and solicitors gaining silk will remain the same, the Lord Chief Justice rather than the Lord Chancellor, as was previously the case, seemed the “most appropriate” giver of the coveted award.
Barely had Lord Falconer’s fateful words been uttered before the Law Society’s press officers, beaming at their body’s new powers, rounded on the media with plans to have far more solicitor-advocates appointed as silks. “There’s only seven or eight, and that’s not enough,” uttered one forcefully.
Indeed. Equally worthy was their disgust at the low number of QCs among ethnic minority and female solicitors.
But these Law Society representatives were quick to leave. No doubt to pursue the society’s other grand vision: of all solicitors, not just those with advocacy rights, being able to attain silk.
If silk is not your preferred cloth, then perhaps The Lawyer Awards 2004 will get your juices flowing.
This week we published the shortlists for what is undoubtedly the premier event in the legal calendar (to be held on 22 June at the Grosvenor House Hotel). To find out who made the cut, go to The Lawyer Awards.