Leading New Zeland judge questions QC title tradition

Senior New Zealand barristers may be stripped of their Queen's Counsel title following a call for a change to the long-held tradition by the nation's leading judge.

Chief Justice Sir Thomas Eichelbaum has suggested it may be time for the QC title to be renamed or completely abolished.

“Some will argue that extinction is preferable to tinkering, a point of view which certainly deserves consideration,” he told the New Zealand media.

Although New Zealand's legal system is modelled on Britain's, the barristers and solicitors' professions have technically fused and are regulated by the same body.

However, a specialist group of what are effectively barristers has developed.

Sir Thomas's call to rethink the title comes as the number of barristers working in private practice and taking instructions booms.

Former New Zealand barrister John McLinden,who joined London chambers 17 Bedford Row in 1995, said the number of working silks in the country's capital of Wellington had jumped from six to 18 since the early 1980s.

The number of juniors had leaped from a dozen to more than 70.

“I believe that rather than atrophying or becoming extinct, silks and the independent Bar are thriving due to a dramatic and unprecedented growth,” said McLinden.

Legal fashion, financial rewards and quicker route to the bench are behind the increase.

Sir Thomas's call for change to the Queen's Counsel title faces not only opposition from an enlarged Bar but also a nation whose republican tendencies are not as strong as that of its Australian neighbour.