New Zealand Law Society - Queen’s and Senior Counsel in many jurisdictions

Queen’s and Senior Counsel in many jurisdictions

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The appointment of 12 Queen’s Counsel in June brought the total appointed in New Zealand to 294. The title changes according to the gender of the New Zealand head of state and, of course, has its origins in England. Sir Francis Bacon was the first King’s Counsel, back in 1603.

“The appointment to the rank of Queen’s Counsel recognises individuals who have excelled at the highest level of law,” Attorney-General Christopher Finlayson QC said when announcing the latest appointments. New Zealand is one of at least 21 jurisdictions which use this 400-year-old title to recognise legal excellence.

Not all of them appoint Queen’s Counsel. Most of the Australian states, Hong Kong and Nigeria now appoint Senior Counsel (although Queensland has – perhaps appropriately – reverted to Queen’s Counsel after spending 1994 to 2013 appointing Senior Counsel). Nigeria appoints Senior Advocates of Nigeria. Tasmania has abolished the rank altogether, and the Canadian provinces of Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba have also dropped out.

India has Senior Advocates, but each High Court and the Supreme Court has its own system. The Supreme Court has now put appointments on hold after a huge row boiled up after its 2015 appointments (we’ve included those appointed by the Supreme Court from the Supreme Court Bar Association). Bangladesh (Senior Advocates) and Pakistan (Senior Counsel) also continue the tradition, but detailed information on recent appointments has not been located.

New Zealand, of course, also went down the Senior Counsel road briefly, deciding to change (and expand the ambit of the role) to “Senior Counsel” in 2006, with the last QC 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). Reinstatement of the title Queen’s Counsel was announced in June 2009, but it was another three years before the necessary legislation received the Royal Assent on 19 November 2012.

Looking at the latest appointments of QCs and SCs in the jurisdictions which retain the rank, it is clear that New Zealand stands up well. While some jurisdictions (including New Zealand) appoint only barristers to the rank, others recognise all practising lawyers – so the total number of lawyers in practice in each jurisdiction has been included as a comparator.

Applications for appointment

The success rate for QC applications in the 2016 round was the second-best this century, with 16% of those who applied being successful.

Information provided by the Crown Law Office shows that 75 barristers applied for QC appointment in 2016 – 58 men and 17 women. Of these, 12 have succeeded: the best rate after 2013 when (after a five-year gap) a record 26 QCs were appointed out of 116 applicants (22.4% successful).

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