Record number of ethnic minority QCs appointed

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Dec 21, 2017
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Two more ethnic minority barristers were promoted than in the last round, despite fewer applications

Andriy Popov/Alamy

More ethnic minority lawyers have been promoted to the ranks of Queen’s Counsel than ever before in a single year, it will be announced today.

Of the 33 ethnic minority barristers who applied for silk this year, 18 are to be promoted. That is two more successful applications than the 2017 round, when 37 lawyers applied.

Women also improved their success rate, with 32 promotions from 50 applications, compared with 31 from 56 applications in this year’s round. It is understood that the current round will have the second most promotions of women since the system was temporarily suspended in 2004.

The promotions will be announced later today by the independent body, Queen’s Counsel Appointments. Overall, 119 new silks will be appointed, a seven-year high and six more than the previous year.

The vast majority of the promoted lawyers are barristers. However, five of the new batch will be solicitors.

The percentage of successful applications continued a downward slide. About 41 per cent of applicants were successful, down from 44.5 per cent in the 2017 round and 45 per cent in 2016.

Female applicants had a far better success rate than their male counterparts. Some 64 per cent of women who applied for silk were successful compared with slightly more than 39 per cent of men. Likewise, 54.5 per cent of ethnic minority lawyers were successful, compared with slightly more than 42 per cent of white applicants. 

The number of applications for silk has plummeted from its peak in 1999, when 553 lawyers bid for promotion. The application process is viewed as increasingly expensive. And some analysts suggest that being awarded silk can actually have a financial cost as clients assume that a QC’s fees will be higher and they send instruction to senior-junior barristers instead.

The QC promotion system was suspended for two years in the mid-2000s amid criticism that the selection process was opaque and rife with old-boy patronage. A reformed system was revived in 2006 by the Labour government, which launched the QC Appointments body and a more transparent assessment process.

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