QCs face silks’ cut

THE historic title of Queen’s Counsel could disappear if a decision by the WA Law Society’s Council to change the silks’ system finds support among barristers.

More than just a cosmetic name change which will please Republi-cans, the proposal was far reaching in what had become a politically-sensitive area.

WA Law Society president Ken Martin QC said the legal commun-ity’s representatives had decided it was time to drop the Queen’s Counsel tradition, including its system of appointment which required State Government appro-val, in favour of a new Senior Counsel regime.

The society’s preferred position is to see the Chief Magistrate have the final say in appointing SCs, without the ratification of the Attorney-General as a QCs’ appointment currently requires.

“This was a decisive vote that has been conveyed to the Attorney-General and the Chief Justice,” Mr Martin said.

Though the society’s decision cuts across the whole legal prof-ession, the fate of the prestigious QC title and its appointment process will ultimately be decided by the WA Bar Association, which regulates barristers, next week.

New Attorney-General Jim McGinty has signalled he favours change.

Mr Martin said the change of State Government was the impetus behind the recent developments.

The previous Attorney-General Peter Foss had at times been at odds with leaders in the legal community on this issue.

It was understood Mr Foss favoured the retention of historic links with the Crown, including a role in the appointment process.

Traditionally, the English sovereign would appoint QCs to barristers who enjoyed the patronage of the Crown.

Over time, a convention developed whereby the Crown bowed out of the appointment process, merely rubber stamping the choices made by the judiciary.

However, this convention has not always been observed and some State and Territory governments have used this power to delay or suspend appointments of QCs whose political leanings did not suit the government. Consequently, New South Wales, Queensland and the ACT have changed to a system of profession-appointed Senior Counsels and Tasmania has abolished any special title altogether.

Mr Martin said he was not aware of any political interference in Western Australia in recent years but he did note that in the Northern Territory, only last year, that there was a case that pointed to the suspension of Northern Territory Law Society president John Tippet’s appointment to QC, allegedly because his views did not sit well with that State Government.

In the last years of the Lawrence Labor Government, it was decided that there would be no further QC appointments.

The Law Society is hopeful that its proposed system of judicially-appointed SCs will be accepted by the Bar Association and the Government. Mr Martin said that “when appointments of QCs or SCs are made, political considerations should be irrelevant.”

n Big law merger – page 8

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