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QC promotions: Number of women silk applicants remains ‘stubbornly low’

Success rate for BAME applicants 'disappointing' despite rise in number of applicants

11 January 2016

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Just 25 women are among the 107 lawyers promoted to the rank of Queen's Counsel, the independent Queen's Counsel Selection Panel (QCSP) has revealed.

Some 48 women lawyers applied for silk, of which only 25 were appointed, a success rate of 52 per cent. In 2014/15, 25 of 43 women applicants were successful. The number of women applicants remains disproportionately low, however, at 20 per cent compared with a professional baseline of approximately 35 per cent women.

QCSP chairman Helen Pitcher said the selection panel remained concerned that the number of female applicants remained 'stubbornly low', but was pleased that of those women who did apply, over half were successful.

Nine out of 32 applicants who declared their ethnic origin to be other than white successfully obtained silk. The success rate for barristers from ethnic minorities has dropped significantly on last year's figures. Some 28 per cent were successful in 2015/16 compared with 41 per cent in 2014/15 when ten out of 24 were appointed.

'While I was pleased to note a rise in BAME applicants to 14 per cent of applications, it is disappointing that the success rate for BAME applicants was lower than that for applicants as a whole,' added Pitcher.

Meanwhile, just one of four applicants who declared a disability was appointed, while nine lawyers over 50 was granted silk, the same as last year. The youngest successful applicant was 34 years old. The oldest was 57.

In addition, three solicitor-advocates out of nine who applied were appointed. In 2014/15 five solicitor advocates were appointed.

'Each year, the panel has the difficult task of identifying the truly excellent advocates,' remarked Pitcher. 'I am confident that those appointed today truly deserve to be Queen's Counsel.'

Sam Mercer, head of equality and diversity at the Bar Council, commented: 'This year’s QC appointments raises two big questions: Why are so few women applying to join the top ranks of the profession, and why are ethnic minority barristers not succeeding at the same rate as their white counterparts?'

Mercer added that the profession must discover why ethnic minority barristers are less likely to succeed.

'For ethnic minority barristers it is vital that we keep every stage of the QC appointments process under close scrutiny to ensure that all potential for bias is eradicated and that we are doing everything we can to encourage under-represented groups to apply,' she continued.

'The very best and the brightest in the profession must be recognised, whatever their background. If we exclude under-represented groups from the top ranks, it means we are failing to benefit from their excellence.

'A very real concern is how these trends will impact the future of judicial appointments. As most of the higher-ranking judges are also Queen’s Counsel, these figures tell us that tomorrow’s senior judiciary may not reflect the communities it seeks to serve.

'We know that women and ethnic minority barristers have been hit relatively harder by cuts to publicly funded areas of law and that additional economic pressures faced by women and the challenges faced by ethnic minorities mean they are less well represented, particularly at the top end of the profession.'

Last week, in response to a QCSP consultation, the Solicitors' Association of Higher Courts Advocates (SAHCA) claimed that high fee levels were discouraging solicitor-advocates from applying for silk.

In total the QCSP received 237 applications, of which 171 applicants were interviewed by the selection panel.

The Lord Chancellor, Michael Gove, commended the 107 barristers and solicitors 'who have demonstrated their excellence as advocates in practice'.