A Queen’s Counsel is a senior barrister. The people who get the Queen’s Counsel title are specifically appointed by the Lord Chancellor and have a lot of experience in preparing cases and working in criminal law or other areas of the court.
Barristers have to study law then go through a training period where they shadow other barristers and work simple cases, and take a bar exam, then they can work their way up to the higher courts and eventually get the QC title. It takes many years to achieve this, and getting the qualification can be quite expensive, but it is a challenging and satisfying thing.
People with the QC title can charge more and take higher profile cases. Currently, there are many more men applying to take the silk than there are women, but the success rate among the women who apply is higher – with more than half of those who seek the title earning it.
The QC title is one that is considered a ‘kite mark’ for barristers – it is a clear sign of experience and quality, and a strong recommendation for the holder’s knowledge, diligence and work ethic. It is a competitive application process, and not everyone who applies for it gets it. Indeed, applications from solicitors are often turned down.
The selection process is a multi-stage application, and people who make it through the initial application are sent to sit in front of a panel of ten interviewers. The selection panel will decide whether or not a person’s experience, qualifications and character are suitable for a position as a QC. This interview process is extensive and includes judges, lawyers and other professionals and takes into account assessments from professional clients, peers, senior judges and others.
Taking the silk is a huge privilege and also an expensive undertaking. There is an application fee and a charge for appointment, which is set high enough to discourage people from applying on a whim. Those who are qualified candidates should be able to afford the fee, though, and the long and in-depth application process means that those who earn the title – and the rights and responsibilities that go along with it to take on large, complex and high profile cases in the higher courts, will be those who will take it seriously and give it the respect that it deserves. Many QCs have appeared in the news and other media, and may be found online such as in this news story about Michael Wolkind QC and his thoughts on DNA evidence.