QC by merit
In light of what has been widely rumoured to be an imminent set of new admissions to the inner bar, that is to say conferring the honour of one of Her Majesty’s Counsel on an attorney-at-law, many laypersons have been once again wondering what exactly is the distinction of being a Queen’s Counsel means and specifically in the Barbados context.
Queen’s Counsel are, by widely accepted definition, attorneys-at-law who have practised at an exceptional standard and have been recognised as such by their peers and the judiciary.
They are Her Majesty’s Counsel, learned in the law and considered to be outstanding lawyers in their respective practice areas.
Traditionally, Queen’s Counsel were only advocate attorneys, those who argued before a court and were known as counsel. In recent times, the honour has also been conferred on solicitors, those attorneys who mainly do non-contentious engagements such as conveyancing and transactional work and who do not typically go to court.
Since we maintain our link to the British monarchy, we in Barbados still use the style “Queen’s Counsel” which is used after one’s name with the suffix “QC” — or King’s Counsel (KC) in the reign of a male monarch. Other territories which have truly severed their links to England, such as Trinidad, New Zealand and Guyana, refer to such counsel as Senior Counsel.
The system for appointing an attorney-at-law as a Queen’s Counsel in Barbados is still somewhat cloaked in a veil of mystery as compared with that which obtains in more transparent jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom, and certain parts of Australia as well as provinces in Canada such as Alberta, where they still appoint QCs.
The current criteria for appointment in the United Kingdom should offer guidance for us here in Barbados, as the UK underwent a tremendous reformation and moved away from the secretive, and justifiably criticised approach, which previously existed.
There, attorneys must go through a thorough selection process. The members of the selection panel, as well as the details of selection, are known to the public. Persons who wish to become a Queen’s Counsel must be proven to be up to date with the law and precedent relevant to each case dealt with, and have the wherewithal to become very familiar with new areas of law.
It is not sufficient to be popular and well known, or merely have tenure in the profession; you must in fact justify the weighty title of Queen’s Counsel.
To satisfy this, the applicant must, for example, submit a list of cases in which they were involved with their outcome and provide the relevant details so the panel can assess competence.
An attorney’s track record is therefore a very genuine and relevant consideration. There is therefore independent analysis as to competence.
In Barbados the admissions to Queen’s Counsel, in the absence of any tangible selection process, have been viewed as being somewhat political in nature in some cases and seen merely as a gratuitous title conferred to party faithful. That is not to say that this is so in every case; there are many persons genuinely deserving.
The challenge with having no set procedure is that the public would be left to wonder whether persons truly merited the appointment or not; a formalised procedure would put pay to any such suggestion, whereas a lack of any invites proper criticism.
One reason that the public should be concerned with the process of appointment is because of the fees that such a position attracts. Queen’s Counsel are entitled to charge fees that are significantly higher than a junior counsel, that being an attorney who does not have “silk”, as QC’s are also referred to due to the material of their courtroom robes. If a litigant loses a case and has to pay costs to the other side, they would typically pay more when a QC is involved as their hourly rates are more.
The public should be aware of the process and completely satisfied that such a title is therefore deserving. In that regard there is a call for reform in Barbados to ensure that a transparent process is followed which inspires confidence that those appointed as Queen’s Counsel merit the title and the fees that go along with their appointment.
We need to adopt the procedures followed in jurisdictions where there are pre-requisites for appointment, whether by putting legislation in place, such as in Alberta and like provinces, or by setting out the requirements formally and the putting in place of a panel responsible for such appointment. * Satcha S-C. S. Kissoon is a practising attorney-at-law and Partner of the firm Weekes Kissoon Deane.†