Whenever a media friendly QC like Peter Faris – well known to Crikey readers – says something, there is a fair bet that many in the Australian community will think that he must know what he’s talking about because he has those magic letters after his name. Well, think again. With due respect to Mr Faris and the hundreds of other Queen’s Counsel, or Senior Counsel as they are now called, that’s not necessarily the case.
The office of QC/SC is an anathema, and an expensive one at that. The moment someone gets the right to put those letters after their name, they can charge double or more the fees they charged clients when they were mere junior barristers. And what’s more, the office is inconsistent with the office of equality before the law. When a QC/SC appears in court he or she is much more likely to be treated with kid gloves than a junior advocate.
People like Mr Faris do not have to sit an examination, or be subjected to a rigorous peer review process in order to become a QC/SC. They simply have to apply to the Chief Justice of their state – it used to be the Attorney-General – and hope that they are looked upon favourably when it comes time to appoint a new crop of ‘silks’, as QC/SCs are termed.
Some QC/SCs get there simply by applying year after year until their number comes up. Others get there by going into politics and becoming Attorney-General. A-G Gareth Evans, Jim Kennan, former Deputy Premier of Victoria and NSW Opposition Leader Peter Collins are all cases in point.
The title of QC/SC is peculiar to Commonwealth countries. It has never existed in the US or Europe. And can one say that the provision of legal services in those countries suffers adversely as a result? No.
It’s time to abolish this quaint Dickensian tradition.
Peter Faris QC responds: Greg Barns has personally attacked me for being a QC (yesterday, item 4). Barns is a Tasmanian barrister, currently appearing in Melbourne in a criminal matter. He failed to disclose those facts. I have been practicing in Melbourne for nearly 45 years and I have been a criminal silk since 1986. I am an expert in criminal law, so I know what I am talking about on that subject. On the other hand, my writings on politics are only presented as my opinions. He says my office of QC is an anathema – meaning “someone or something intensely disliked or loathed”. His comment is stupid. Barns implies that he does not get a fair go in court. Judges will respect him if his conduct and arguments make him worthy of respect. The Victorian Bar is a truly competitive market economy – you earn what you are worth. If Barns is worth it, nothing prevents him from charging more than me. Maybe he does. The Chief Justice decided to appoint me. I earned my appointment and I am proud of it.