New Zealand Law Society

Navigation menu

Some QC facts and figures

09 June 2016 - By Geoff Adlam

The 2016 round of Queen's Counsel appointments saw 12 new QCs - which was the third equal highest number of people appointed at any one time.

Since the appointment of 10 King's Counsel on 7 June 1907, 294 members of the legal profession have been appointed Queen's Counsel.

Possibly the only honour where the title changes according to the gender of the monarch, "Queen's Counsel" has been conferred on 251 people, with 43 (all male) having been appointed King's Counsel.

The lawyers who were appointed KC in 1907 were nominated by Chief Justice Sir Robert Stout from a list of applicants. Stout CJ decided that the appointments needed to recognise the local Bars in the four main centres - so there were four appointees from Wellington and two each from Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin.

Appointment rounds

A century had almost passed before there were more appointees at any one time. On 14 May 2007, 12 lawyers were appointed Queen's Counsel. The most appointed at any time were 26 in the great "catch-up" round of 2013. Although Attorney-General Christopher Finlayson and Solicitor-General Michael Heron had been appointed QC on 10 December 2012, it had been five years since an applicant-driven appointment round had occurred.

Highest number of people appointed Queen's/King's Counsel at any one time

DateAppointees
16-May-201326
4-June-201414
14-May-200712
7-June-201612
7-June-190710
27-May-19969
26-May-19989
20-May-20029


The "usual" number appointed over the last few decades seems to have been around half a dozen, with seven appointed on 5 occasions (1988, 1995, 1997, 2000 and 2008) and six on 6 occasions (1973, 1981, 1987, 1991, 1994, and 1999).

Gender

The first women appointed Queen's Counsel were Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias and Dame Lowell Goddard, on 4 March 1988 (it was a further seven years until another women attained the rank, with the appointment of Judith Ablett-Kerr on 20 December 1995). Since 1988 there have been 181 Queen's Counsel appointed, of whom 31 (17.1%) have been women. Overall, 10.5% of all Queen's/King's Counsel appointees since 1907 have been women.

The 2016 round was equal highest for the proportion of women appointees. The most women appointed at any one time is four - in 2016, 2014 and 2013.

Highest proportion of women appointed Queen's Counsel

DateAppointeesWomen% Women
7-June-201612433.3%
24-July-20153133.3%
4-March-19887228.6%
20-May-20027228.6%
1-October-20087228.6%
4-June-201414428.6%
Time to attain the rank

With about 0.9% of New Zealand's lawyers holding the rank of Queen's Counsel, it is clear that the honour is hard-earned. Since the round of appointments in 1984, the average time in practice before appointment has been 26.8 years. Women appointed Queen's Counsel have been in practice for an average of 24.3 years and men for an average of 27.3 years.

Of course, "Queen's Counsel"  recognises excellence at the Bar, and the guidelines for appointment note that only barristers sole may be appointed QC. At 1 June 2016, of New Zealand's 1343 barristers, 502 (37%) were women. If the average time in legal practice before QC appointment is considered there were 596 barristers at 1 June 2016 who had been in practice for more than the average time of appointment (and around 100 of these are already Queen's Counsel). Just 148 of the barristers in practice for more than 26.8 years were women.

The mark for the most years in practice before appointment appears to have been set in 2016, with the special appointment of Victoria University law professor John Prebble. Professor Prebble QC was admitted in 1968, 48 years before his appointment.

Data on time in practice is held for three-quarters of all QCs appointed. From this group, the shortest time in practice before appointment was 13 years, for Judith Ablett-Kerr QC (appointed on 20 April 1995) and Justice Sir William Young (appointed QC on 31 March 1991). 

Location

The first appointments in 1907 were spread to ensure that barristers in the main centres were recognised. Appointments now obviously do not take geography into account, but with 52% of New Zealand-based barristers in Auckland, 14% in Wellington and 8% in Christchurch, it's natural that those centres will have most Queen's Counsel.

Location on appointment

LocationAppointees
Auckland123
Wellington102
Christchurch29
Dunedin12
Hamilton9
Palmerston North5
Melbourne4
New Plymouth3
Napier2
Whanganui2
Rotorua1
Sydney1
Tauranga1
TOTAL294
Time as QC in practice

New Zealand's longest-serving Queen's Counsel still in legal practice is Colin Pidgeon QC, who was appointed on 1 August 1985. He is followed by James Farmer QC (appointed on 8 May 1986), Alan Galbraith QC (appointed 6 April 1987), Peter Jenkin QC (appointed 4 March 1988) and Nigel Hampton QC (appointed 17 May 1989).

Attorneys-General and Solicitors-General

Solicitor-General Una Jagose was one of those appointed in the 2016 round. Since the first KC appointments in 1907 there have been 14 Solicitors-General and all have been appointed KC or QC. The only Solicitor-General missing since New Zealand started appointing Queen's Counsel is Frederick Fitchett, who was Solicitor-General in 1907, but did not receive the rank.

Seven Attorneys-General have become Queen's Counsel - although Sir Thomas Webb was appointed six days before leaving office in 1954 and Sir Geoffrey Palmer (originally SC) was appointed to the rank in 2008, well after he had left Parliament.

Judicial QCs

Of the 294 King's or Queen's Counsel appointed in New Zealand, 96 have gone on to become members of the judiciary. Seven of our nine Chief Justices since 1907 have been King's or Queen's Counsel and six QCs have become President of the Court of Appeal.

Non-New Zealand appointments

Four Australians have been appointed QC in New Zealand. Three - all from Melbourne - were appointed in 1994 under a reciprocal admission agreement.

Family connections

Three generations of the Cooke family have attained the rank: Justice Philip Cooke KC (appointed 28 January 1936), Sir Robin (Lord) Cooke QC (appointed 25 May 1964) and Francis Cooke QC (appointed 27 July 2004).

There are several instances of two generations, including: Sir Richard Wild CJ (appointed 11 September 1957) and his son John (now a Court of Appeal Judge; appointed 26 May 1993); High Court Judge Lance Tompkins (appointed QC 13 May 1958) and his son Sir David Tompkins (appointed in 1974); Sir Ronald Davison CJ (appointed 16 June 1963) and his son Paul (now a High Court Judge; appointed QC 27 May 1996); High Court Judge Sir John White (appointed QC on 14 March 1966) and his son, former Court of Appeal Judge Douglas (now Law Commission President; appointed 4 March 1988); and Sir Geoffrey Palmer (appointed 1 October 2008) and his son Matthew (now a High Court Judge; appointed 4 June 2014).

Time as QC

The QC rank is held for life. High Court judge Sir Muir Chilwell was appointed QC on 11 August 1965 and died on 10 June 2014, 48 years and 303 days after his appointment.

The shortest tenure appears to be that of Christchurch barrister Thomas Joynt KC who was in the first group of KCs appointed on 7 June 1907. He died just under three months later, on 5 September 1907.

The shortest time between being appointed to the rank and becoming a judge is the split second between the appointment of Sir Henry Ostler KC as a King's Counsel and then a Judge of the Supreme (now High) Court on 2 February 1925. Sir Henry had accepted an offer of appointment to the Supreme Court bench in 1924 on condition that he would not be expected to start until 1925 and that he would first be appointed King's Counsel.

Barristers' Chambers with most Queen's Counsel

This is believed to be Shortland Chambers in Auckland, with 14 Queen's Counsel among its 30 full members (and another five QCs as associate members).

And what about the rest of the world?

Apart from the Queen's homeland, the rank of Queen's Counsel has had a stop/start history in several other Commonwealth countries, including our own.

England and Wales has an annual "Competition" for those who want to become Queen's Counsel. It has its own website and around 100 or so new Queen's Counsel emerge each year (107 in 2015/16, 93 in 2014/15, and 100 in 2013/14). Of the new appointments this year, 25 were women (23.4%). Last year there were also 25 women appointed (26.9%) and in 2013/14, 18 women were appointed (18.0%).

In New Zealand, of course, we decided to rename the role "Senior Counsel" in 2006, with the last (at the time) Queen's Counsel appointments being made in 2007. The Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 then came into effect and on 1 October 2008, seven Senior Counsel were appointed (who have since taken the title Queen's Counsel).  In June 2009 reinstatement of the title Queen's Counsel was announced, but it was another three years before the necessary legislation received the Royal Assent on 19 November 2012.

Australia is complicated in that each state does or does not appoint Queen's Counsel/Senior Counsel, and the Commonwealth has also (sort of) resumed appointments. Among the states, New South Wales changed the name of QC in 1993 to Senior Counsel. Tasmania decided to stop having Queen's Counsel in 2005, so we can pass on to Queensland, which moved to Senior Counsel in 1994 and then returned to Queen's Counsel in 2013. Western Australia moved to Senior Counsel in 2001. South Australia changed to Senior Counsel in 2008, but is currently debating whether to allow people to use "Queen's Counsel" if they prefer. Victoria changed to Senior Counsel in 2000 but on 22 January 2015 it was announced that appointees have the option of choosing Queen's Counsel. The Commonwealth of Australia stopped creating Queen's Counsel in March 2007 until July 2010 when it went with Senior Counsel, until March 2014 when "Queen's Counsel" made a triumphant return.

Canada's provinces are also divided over the use of Queen's Counsel. Many retain the title, with most appointments being made in December. The Federal Government decided in 2013 to revive the title after two decades, and appointed 7 new QCs in 2014 - of whom 2 were women (28.6%). However, no appointments were made in 2015 and the new Trudeau government is believed to oppose the practice. Canada led the way with women QCs, appointing the first woman QC in the world in 1934 (Helen Alice Kinnear). Ontario, Manitoba and Quebec no longer appoint QCs, and Alberta makes appointments every two years. Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and British Columbia all make annual QC appointments.

The following table shows many of the jurisdictions which appoint Queen's and Senior Counsel, and the last round of appointments. Nigeria appoints Senior Counsel of Nigeria. The Indian Supreme Court appoints Senior Advocates (currently suspended). Bangladesh and Pakistan appoint Senior Counsel but detailed information is not available. As a comparator, the table shows the number of practising lawyers (barristers and solicitors) per QC or SC appointed.

Appointment of Queen's and Senior Counsel - latest appointments

JurisdictionTitleMaleFemaleTotal% Male% FemaleDateLawyers
Per QC/SC*
ACTSC101100.0%0.0%12-Aug-141816
AlbertaQC19203948.7%51.3%28-Jan-16231
British ColumbiaQC28113971.8%28.2%18-Dec-15281
England & WalesQC822510776.6%23.4%11-Jan-161383
Hong KongSC31475.0%25.0%22-Mar-162465
IndiaSA32560.0%40.0%23-Apr-151398
New BrunswickQC741163.6%36.4%19-Oct-15150
New South WalesSC2332688.5%11.5%24-Sep-151149
New ZealandQC841266.7%33.3%7-Jun-161090
NewfoundlandQC63966.7%33.3%2-Nov-1584
NigeriaSAN2012195.2%4.8%10-Jul-15N/A
Northern IrelandQC971656.3%43.8%20-Jan-15181
Northern TerritorySC11250.0%50.0%15-Sep-15288
Nova ScotiaQC641060.0%40.0%20-Jan-16192
Prince Edward IslandQC0220.0%100.0%18-Dec-15119
QueenslandQC911090.0%10.0%20-Nov-151148
SaskatchewanQC1141573.3%26.7%18-Dec-15229
ScotlandQC23540.0%60.0%23-Sep-152350
South AustraliaSC42666.7%33.3%11-Sep-14634
VictoriaSC1721989.5%10.5%4-Dec-15959
Western AustraliaSC202100.0%0.0%1-Dec-152943
Total 26110036172.3%27.7% 859

Last updated on the 20th June 2016