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A Queen’s Counsel (QC for short) is a term we hear a lot when we talk about barristers. A highly respected role within the profession, it entitles those awarded the title to charge higher fees to clients and work on more specialist cases.

What Is a Queen’s Counsel Barrister?

A Queen’s Counsel is an advocate appointed by the monarch to be one of ‘Her Majesty’s Counsel learned in the law’ or a King’s Counsel (KC) when the monarch is male. Before 1995, only barristers could be appointed as a QC but the system was changed so that solicitors could too.

Typically QCs can charge their clients a lot more than regular barristers and will take on fewer cases than advocates without the title. These cases tend to be more complex and require a high level of specialist expertise. Sometimes the QC will even need to instruct a team of advocates.

As of 2017, there were around 17,000 barristers in England and Wales, of which approximately 10% were QCs. They had an average of 13 years of experience before their appointment to the Queen’s Counsel.

History of the Role

The first Queen’s Counsel barrister was appointed by Queen Elizabeth I in 1597 to Sir Francis Bacon. By the late 20th century, formal privileges had been established:

  • Uniform: a short wig, wing collar, and bands and a silk gown. This has led to the informal terming of a QC’s appointment as ‘taking silk’
  • Formal right to address the court with preference. This, however, no longer has any practical significance
  • Position within court: QCs were also entitled to sit in the front row. This is no longer an advantage, just professional etiquette

During this time, A QC also had exemption rights from the ‘Cab-rank rule’. For junior barristers, this rule meant that they could not turn down legally aided cases and work for private instructions, which were generally more lucrative.

How to Become a QC

Application to become a QC is an extensive process, which can take between three and five years. Candidates must satisfy a demanding five-stage competency framework:

  • Understanding and using the law
  • Written and oral advocacy
  • Working with others
  • Diversity
  • Integrity

Those who make Queen’s Counsel are those who are deemed to have achieved excellence in all five competencies. Applications usually provide evidence from several cases they have worked on and references and confidential assessments from judges, fellow advocates, and professional clients are considered before successful candidates are invited to interview. during the interview, applicants sit before a selection panel of 10 people, comprising of barristers, solicitors, a retired judge and non-lawyers.

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