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No shift in demographics as 114 new QCs are named

Allan: Concerned about number of female and solicitor applicants

Some 114 new QCs were appointed yesterday, with the statistics showing little change in the demographics of the 258 who applied, of whom just a fifth were women.

However, those who declared an ethnic origin other than white were significantly more successful than last year, with a record 22 of 42 applicants winning through, compared to 13 of 42 last year.

This meant 16% of all applicants were from a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) background, a little higher than the proportion at the Bar as a whole. Some 52% of BAME applicants were successful, as against 43% of white applicants.

Forty-two of women were interviewed, and 30 were successful (58%), significantly higher than the proportions of men (41%). Last year’s figures were similar.

Sir Alex Allan, chair of the selection panel of QC Appointments, said: “We remain concerned that the number of female applicants remains comparatively low.”

Of the 245 applicants who gave their sexual orientation, seven identified as gay men and one as a gay woman. All were interviewed, and six were recommended for appointment. There was one bisexual applicant, who was not invited to interview.

Ten applicants declared a disability on the application form, of whom six were interviewed and three appointed.

The youngest successful applicant was 37 years old – 12 of the new QCs are under 40 – and the oldest is 60.

Six of the 10 employed advocates who applied were appointed, as were four of the nine solicitor-advocates – only five applied last year.

As usual, the successful solicitors were arbitration specialists from City firms: Nigel Blackaby of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Simon Chapman of Herbert Smith Freehills, Jason Fry of Clifford Chance and Andrew de Lotbiniere McDougall of White & Case.

Sir Alex said in his report on the competition: “The agreed process was designed to enable solicitor-advocates to seek appointment with the assurance that they would be assessed fairly alongside barrister applicants. We remain concerned that the level of applications from solicitor advocates remains comparatively low.

“For whatever reason, there appears to be some hesitancy on the part of solicitor-advocates to apply for silk, even where they may be well qualified to do so. We will continue to liaise with the Solicitors Association of Higher Courts Advocates and with the Law Society to explore what can be done to overcome this problem.”

Advocates pay £1,800 to apply with successful candidates required to pay a further £3,000 in addition to the cost of Letters Patent. Only one applicant paid the 50% fee reduction available for those with low earnings, defined as below £60,000 in fees for those at the self-employed Bar.

Sir Alex’s report spelt out the difficulty of finding sufficient assessors of applicants’ work. They are asked to list 12 cases of “substance, complexity, or particular difficulty or sensitivity” in which they had appeared in the last three years.

They were asked to list at least one judicial and one practitioner assessor from each of their listed cases, and to list at least six client assessors. Only a third were able to do this.

Some 77 of applicants were not asked for interview (30%), which means the selection panel considered it clear from the reports of the assessors and the applicant’s own self-assessment, that they had no reasonable prospects of success.

“The panel considers that it is possible for applicants’ scores to improve in each of the competencies at interview. Accordingly, applicants are invited to interview unless their score for one or more competencies at pre-interview moderation is at least two lower than the minimum level required to be recommended for appointment,” Sir Alex explained.

In 2019, 97 applicants (38%) had applied in at least one of the three previous competitions. Of these, 30 were not invited to interview, although 13 had been interviewed in a previous year. In all, 34 (35%) repeat applicants were recommended for appointment compared to 80 (50%) of new applicants.

Sir Alex said QC Appointments appreciated that the nature of some kinds of practice meant an applicant might seldom appear in court.

“Where it appears that an applicant is highly successful at settling cases, we have accepted that only rarely will he or she appear before a court in cases of substance, complexity, or particular difficulty or sensitivity; and we have been ready to accommodate that.

“We have, for example, recommended for appointment practitioners in the fields of personal injury and clinical negligence. Where appropriate, we have taken account of evidence relating to settlement discussions.

“We have also recommended other applicants with practices which may bring them to court less frequently, for example revenue practitioners.”

Also, 16% of successful applicants had no assessments from current or former High Court or more senior judges.

Ten honorary QCs were also named: