I have never felt particularly comfortable about professional engineering. By that I mean devices chosen by the Ministry of Justice to promote candidates to higher office simply because of their colour, gender or creed, and regardless of their qualifications to fill the post on offer.
It started some years ago when the Law Society lobbied the then Lord Chancellor, it could have been the acerbic Scot Lord Clash of McFern, demanding access as advocates to all the higher courts. Until then, these solicitors had rights of audience in the Magistrates Courts, where they felt most comfortable and could weave their magic and impress the court with their advocacy and adversarial skills. The higher courts were the preserve of the Bar. Lord Clash, never a friend of the Bar, engineered their admission to the higher courts, in reality to break the Bar’s monopoly, but in so doing, allowed a rush of solicitors with little or no advocacy skills, to wash around the higher courts when, on any view but his own, it would diminish the reputation of the courts and the effective administration of justice. Despite a wealth of evidence to the contrary, it was determined that solicitors could apply for a higher courts certificate if they could satisfy the Ministry that they were up to snuff and, most importantly, they could pay the advocacy fee.
It is entirely possible that some solicitors can match the Bar in advocacy and adversarial skills, although in my considerable experience, I am yet to be convinced. That said, with this professional engineering and a glut of lawyers from both branches of the profession, standards are plummeting. Lord Clash has little to be proud of.
And so it is with Queen’s Counsel. In the not too distant past, it was regarded as a privilege and a mark of excellence to be appointed a QC. Generally speaking, the appointment followed at least two previous applications, each time accompanied by a hefty application fee, with the candidate requesting references from big hitters in the profession and, with any luck, a high court judge.
Recent statistics show that of the appointments, men predominate as they have throughout the profession since time began. However, there are moves afoot, with the connivance of Liz Truss, a female and the current Lady Chancellor, to professionally engineer future appointments to favour females. I remember a colleague of mine making a highly amusing speech at one of the profession’s interminable conferences on how best to secure an appointment. He concluded after a detailed statistical analysis that transgender candidates from one of the ethnic minorities stood the best chance of all. His remarks may have been tongue in cheek, but beneath the humour lies a serious message, and it’s depressing.