The Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, is facing allegations of seeking to reform the silks system by the back door after flooding the market with a record number of new Queen's Counsel.
No fewer than 113 barristers will take silk this year, compared with 77 last year and an average of just 71 new QCs since 1994. On average, just 14 per cent of applicants are successful, but this year that figure rocketed to 26.3 per cent.
There is particular concern over the number of new commercial silks in this year's round. Last year only one commercial set, Essex Court, received any new silks. Consequently, the commercial bar exerted considerable political pressure to ensure it was better represented this time around. However, there are considerable fears that this could now backfire.
“I think the Lord Chancellor has had an awful lot of pressure after the lack of commercial silk appointments last year and said 'right, you lot want silk, you can have silk, but you have to find the work',” said Paul Cooklin, senior practice manager at premier insolvency set 3/4 South Square. “Let's face it, there's not the volume of commercial litigation there was two years ago. I think there are going to be an awful lot of silks chasing a small amount of work,” he added.
A spokesman from the Lord Chancellor's Department said: “Appointments are made strictly on the basis of the individual merits of the applicants concerned. However, it's true to say that other factors would include the expansion of the legal services market – for example the rise of London as an international legal centre, and the increase in specialisation and sub-specialisation in different fields of law where people have developed expertise.”
Two sets received five new appointments each – magic circle commercial set Fountain Court and 39 Essex Street – while 3 Verulam Buildings received four.
Fountain Court's senior clerk Michael Couling argues that the glut of new commercial silks was important to redress the balance from previous years. He says that the set has been offered a lot of silk work in the past six months and that given his tenants' strong junior practices, the transition to silk should be smooth. “These appointments are a testament to Fountain Court's strength in depth. Given our losses – we were down to 13 silks, but with a lot of good juniors – to get five is excellent,” he said.
The new appointments also included two solicitors – Herbert Smith's Dr Julian Lew and Kingsley Napley's Michael Caplan. Another former solicitor, Malcolm Gammie of One Essex Court, was also rewarded with silk, even though he was only called to the bar in 1997. Previously Gammie, a tax specialist, practised as a solicitor at Linklaters. One Essex Court gained three new silks in total: Gammie, Kenneth MacLean and the long-awaited appointment of Laurence Rabinowitz, one of the stars of the commercial bar.
In total there were 429 applications for silk, of which 44 were from women, 19 from ethnic minority lawyers and eight from solicitors. Of those appointed, 12 are women (27.2 per cent of female applicants) and seven are from an ethnic minority (36.8 per cent of ethnic minority applicants). Both groups received a higher percentage of appointments than last year.
|Silks List 2002|
Dr Julian Lew
|2 Hare Court
David Howker,Orlando Pownall
3 Hare Court
Hollis Whiteman Chambers
Finola O'Farrell, Adrian Williamson
One King's Bench Walk
2 King's Bench Walk
(Michael Vere-Hodge QC)
Gordon Bebb,Jonathan Fuller
10 King's Bench Walk (Georges Khayat QC)
11 King's Bench Walk Chambers
12 King's Bench Walk
13 King's Bench Walk
Rhodri Thompson, Hugh Tomlinson, Rabinder Singh
1 Middle Temple Lane
1 Mitre Court Buildings
Valentine Le Grice
Three New Square
Four New Square
24 Old Buildings
Stephen Moverley Smith
Old Square Chambers
Nigel Cooksley, Jane McNeill, Paul Rose
4 Paper Buildings (Jean Ritchie QC)
Pump Court Chambers
Pump Court Tax Chambers
Queen Elizabeth Building
3 Raymond Buildings
Michael Bromley-Martin, James Lewis
5 Raymond Buildings
3-4 South Square
3 Stone Buildings
4 Stone Buildings
|5 Stone Buildings
Christopher Tidmarsh, Shân Warnock-Smith
2 Temple Gardens
Graham Eklund, David Thomas
Tooks Court Chambers
3 Verulum Buildings
Michael Kay, Andrew Onslow, Rory Philips, Stephen Philips