Costs lawyers and others with rights of audience who are not currently eligible for appointment as Queen’s Counsel should have the right to apply for silk, the Association of Costs Lawyers (ACL) has said.
Responding to a consultation by QC Appointments (QCA) – the body that organises the annual silk round – the association argued that “recognition of those at the pinnacle of their branch of the profession should apply equally to costs lawyers, who often will be recognised as the expert in respect of costs in their particular area or more widely”.
It said the benefit of recognition of expertise in the area of costs law was that litigants and their representatives would be able to rely upon the mark of quality conferred by the rank of QC within the specialist field of costs law, in the same way that expertise is presently assured by the achievement of the qualification of becoming a costs lawyer.
The call echoes that of the Legal Services Consumer Panel, which told QCA that QC status should be available to all advocates appearing in the higher courts, whether or not they are barristers or solicitors.
The QCA consultation paper asked whether it should be necessary to hold rights of audience for all civil or all criminal proceedings to be eligible for QC status; whether any higher rights at all should be sufficient to found eligibility; or whether there was a suitable middle position between those two options.
The ACL supported a middle option of permitting lawyers specialising in a particular area of law to be eligible for appointment as QC in particular designated areas.
It said: “The restriction of the rank of Queen’s Counsel to those specialist barristers and solicitors in their particular fields at the expense of other branches of the profession to whom that mark of excellence can likewise be applied is unjustifiable and risks the relegation of a recognised branch of the profession, containing numerous experts who would otherwise be candidates for silk, to a lesser role.
“It is therefore suggested that the category of costs lawyer be eligible for appointment to the position of Queen’s Counsel, to recognise the potential for excellence in this branch of the profession, and the rank be opened up to those qualified as costs lawyers, subject to the satisfactory demonstration of suitable expertise and experience in accordance with the established criteria.”
ACL chairman Sue Nash said: “Expert costs lawyers play a crucial role in keeping the courts and wider litigation system working, and we see no reason why this should not be recognised in the same way as the contribution of others.”