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Right royal turnaround

News

Cite as: September 2013 87 (9) LIJ, p.28

Silks in Victoria are likely to return to the centuries-old title of Queen's Counsel.

Victoria is likely to see the revival of Queen’s Counsel as the main identifier for silks within months, according to barristers who have been pressing for a return of the centuries-old title.

After years of backroom agitation, the move to allow members of the inner Bar to choose if they wish to be called Senior Counsel or Queen’s Counsel has the support of state Attorney-General Robert Clark and, it is believed, a majority of members of the Bar.

Workplace relations barrister, Stuart Wood SC, told the LIJ he was confident the momentum for change would be too hard to resist.

“I think it will happen within six months in Victoria,” Mr Wood said. “And I would be surprised if it doesn’t happen throughout the whole of Australia by the end of 2014.”

Proponents of change say there is confusion about the title SC, that QC is a recognised brand worldwide and that Australian barristers are losing work in international markets, particularly Asia.

Mr Wood said the recent decision of Queensland Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie to allow silks to choose the title QC is a major boost to the campaign in Victoria and will produce a domino effect. In Queensland, 70 of 74 SCs took the title QC, including federal shadow Attorney-General George Brandis.

“Queensland has gone, WA will go, then Victoria, then New South Wales and the others will follow,” Mr Wood said.

Mr Wood said immediate benefits would flow to barristers in Victoria with the world’s economic weight shifting to Asia. “There is a huge opportunity to provide legal services to nearly three billion people,” he said.

A spokesman for Mr Clark told the LIJ that the Attorney-General has indicated to the Victorian Bar that he would be willing to consider a request for persons appointed as SCs to be able to be appointed as QCs.

In 2000, then Attorney-General Rob Hulls ended the QC title for new silks. The decision was unpopular in the profession and only a handful of the 250 QCs in the inner Bar changed their title to SC. One was Judge Felicity Hampel who describes the title QC as “a thing of the past” in the latest Victorian Bar News.

“It is sad to think that in 21st century Australia people are worried that unless we use the same titles as the British we will not have competitive equality or advantage,” Judge Hampel writes.

Victorian Bar chair Fiona McLeod SC said they “may” look at the issue but it is not a priority. The immediate focus of the Bar is on this year’s appointments and supporting the Chief Justice in her role as appointor of senior counsel.

“No change will be contemplated without consultation with the Chief Justice and the Attorney-General,” Ms McLeod said. “A return to Queen’s Counsel for existing SCs would require change to the current model and involve the Attorney-General and Governor in the issuing of letters patent, not issued in this state for senior counsel since 2003.”

Leading pro-QC campaigner, Michael Wyles SC, said the argument should not be seen as monarchists versus republicans. It is simply a case of using the more recognised brand. “London chambers are pushing into Singapore, Hong Kong and other places in Asia. If they are setting up chambers in these places there must be some economic viability to the argument for the use of the title QC,” Mr Wyles said, adding change would cost nothing and would not require change to the appointments system. He was confident the Bar Council would ask Mr Clark to allow members of the inner Bar to have a choice.

LIV president Reynah Tang said the name given to silks is primarily a matter for the Victorian Bar but as with any legislative changes, the LIV would welcome the opportunity to be consulted.

“What is more important from the perspective of the LIV is the process for identifying people worthy of silk, and involving solicitors in that process. In this regard, we support the reforms which were introduced last year and which are continuing for 2013,” Mr Tang said. A revised method of appointing silks was piloted in 2012 after the Chief Justice signalled that the workload associated with the existing system was unsustainable. The pilot was deemed a success by the Bar Council and the LIV.

Not everyone at the Victorian Bar is convinced of the need for change regarding SCs and QCs.

Criminal Bar Association chair Remy van de Wiel QC said the reason he didn’t take on the title SC was “I couldn’t be bothered”.

“There are a helluva lot more important issues than if we are called QCs or SCs,” Mr van de Wiel said.

It seems that argument has been lost.

Norrie Ross

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