In the United Kingdom and some Commonwealth countries, a King's Counsel (post-nominal initials KC)[a] is a senior trial lawyer appointed by the monarch of the country as a 'Counsel learned in the law'. In important cases both sides will generally appoint a King's Counsel to lead their legal team in court.
The position originated in England and Wales. Some other Commonwealth countries have retained the designation, while others have either abolished the position or renamed it so as to remove monarchical connotations — for example, '
Appointment as King's Counsel is an office recognised by courts. Members in the UK have the privilege of sitting within the inner bar of court. As members wear silk gowns of a particular design (see court dress), appointment as King's Counsel is known informally as taking silk and KCs are often colloquially called silks. Appointments are made from within the legal profession on the basis of merit and not merely a particular level of experience. Successful applicants are normally barristers, or (in Scotland) advocates, with at least 15 years of experience.
Historical origins in England and Wales
The attorney general, solicitor-general and king's serjeants were King's Counsel in Ordinary in the Kingdom of England. The first Queen's Counsel Extraordinary was Sir Francis Bacon, who was given a patent giving him precedence at the Bar in 1597, and formally styled King's Counsel in 1603. The right of precedence before the Court granted to Bacon became a hallmark of the early King's Counsel. True to their name, King's/Queen's Counsel initially were representatives of the Crown. The right of precedence and pre-audience bestowed upon them – a form of seniority that allowed them to address the court before others – allowed for the swift resolution of Crown litigation.
The new rank of King's Counsel contributed to the gradual obsolescence of the formerly more senior serjeant-at-law by superseding it. The attorney-general and solicitor-general had similarly succeeded the king's serjeants as leaders of the Bar in Tudor times, though not technically senior until 1623 (except for the two senior king's serjeants) and 1813, respectively.
King's Counsel came to prominence during the early 1830s, prior to which they were relatively few in number. It became the standard means to recognise a barrister as a senior member of the profession, and the numbers multiplied accordingly. It became of greater professional importance to become a KC, and the serjeants gradually declined. The KCs inherited the prestige of the serjeants and their priority before the courts. The earliest English law list, published in 1775, lists 165 members of the Bar, of whom 14 were King's Counsel, a proportion of about 8.5%. As of 2010[update] roughly the same proportion existed, though the number of barristers had increased to about 12,250 in independent practice (i.e., excluding pupil barristers and employed barristers). In 1839 the number of Queen's Counsel was seventy. In 1882, the number of Queen's Counsel was 187. The list of Queen's Counsel in the Law List of 1897 gave the names of 238, of whom hardly one third appeared to be in actual practice. In 1959, the number of practising Queen's Counsel was 181. In each of the five years up to 1970, the number of practising Queen's Counsel was 208, 209, 221, 236 and 262, respectively. In each of the years 1973 to 1978, the number of practising Queen's Counsel was 329, 345, 370, 372, 384 and 404, respectively. In 1989, the number of practising Queen's Counsel was 601. In each of the years 1991 to 2000, the number of practising Queen's Counsel was 736, 760, 797, 845, 891, 925, 974, 1006, 1043, and 1072, respectively.
Gradually, the appointment as Queen's Counsel shifted from a vocational calling to a badge of honor and prestige. In 1898, Lord Watson noted in his opinion in Attorney General of the Dominion of Canada v. Attorney General for the Province of Ontario, writing on behalf of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, that:
The exact position occupied by a Queen's Counsel duly appointed is a subject which might admit of a good deal of discussion. It is in the nature of an office under the Crown, although any duties which it entails are almost as unsubstantial as its emoluments; and it is also in the nature of an honour or dignity to this extent, that it is a mark and recognition by the Sovereign of the professional eminence of the counsel upon whom it is conferred.
Until the late 19th century, some barristers were granted a patent of precedence in order to obtain the same precedence as a QC without the concomitant restrictions. Queen's Counsel was originally considered an office of profit and hence, under the Act of Settlement 1701, incompatible with membership of the House of Commons. QCs were also required to take the Oath of Supremacy, which Daniel O'Connell refused as a Roman Catholic; despite being the most prominent and best paid barrister in Ireland, he was a junior counsel for 30 years until granted a patent of precedence in 1831.
From the beginning, QCs were not allowed to appear against the Crown without a special licence, but this was generally given as a formality. This stipulation was particularly important in criminal cases, which are mostly brought in the name of the Crown. The result was that, until 1920 in England and Wales, QCs had to have a licence to appear in criminal cases for the defence. Queen's Counsel and serjeants were prohibited, at least from the mid-nineteenth century onward, from drafting pleadings alone; a junior barrister had to be retained. They were not permitted to appear in court without a junior barrister, and they had to have barristers' chambers in London.
These restrictions had a number of consequences: they made the taking of silk something of a professional risk, because the appointment abolished at a stroke some of the staple work of the junior barrister; they made the use of leading counsel more expensive, and therefore ensured that they were retained only in more important cases, and they protected the work of the junior bar, which could not be excluded by the retention of leading counsel. By the end of the twentieth century, however, all of these rules had been abolished one by one. Appointment as QC has been said to be a matter of status and prestige only, with no formal disadvantages. But economic risk may remain, in some markets, because of loss of junior work to the successful applicant.
Appointment from barristers
Queen's Counsel were traditionally selected from barristers, or in Scotland, advocates, rather than from lawyers in general, because they were counsel appointed to conduct court work on behalf of the Crown. Although the limitations on private instruction were gradually relaxed, QCs continued to be selected from barristers, who had the sole right of audience in the higher courts.
The first woman appointed King's Counsel was Helen Kinnear in Canada in 1934. The first women to be appointed as King's Counsel in England and Wales were Helena Normanton and Rose Heilbron in 1949. They were preceded by Margaret Kidd KC (later Dame Margaret Kidd QC) appointed a KC in Scotland in 1948.
Recent developments in the United Kingdom
England and Wales
In 1994 solicitors of England and Wales became entitled to gain rights of audience in the higher courts, and some 275 were so entitled in 1995. In 1995, these solicitors became entitled to apply for appointment as Queen's Counsel. The first two solicitors were appointed on 27 March 1997, out of 68 new QCs. These were Arthur Marriott (53), partner in the London office of the American law firm of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr based in Washington, D.C., and Lawrence Collins (55), a partner in the City of London law firm of Herbert Smith. Collins was subsequently appointed a High Court judge and ultimately Justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.
The appointment of new Queen's Counsel was suspended in 2003, and it was widely expected that the system would be abolished. However, a vigorous campaign was mounted in defence of the system. Supporters included those who considered it as an independent indication of excellence to those (especially foreign commercial litigants) who did not have much else to go on, and those who contended that it was a means whereby the most able barristers from ethnic minorities could advance and overcome prejudice, as well as better represent members of an increasingly diverse society.
The government's focus switched from abolition to reform and, in particular, reform of the much-criticised "secret soundings" of judges and other establishment legal figures upon which the old system was based. This was held to be inappropriate and unfair given the size of the modern profession, as well as a possible source of improper government patronage (since the final recommendations were made by the Lord Chancellor, who is a member of the government), and discriminatory against part-time workers (especially women) and ethnic minorities.
In November 2004, after much public debate in favour of and against retaining the title (see for example Sasha Wass QC), the government announced that appointments of Queen's Counsel in England would be resumed but that future appointees would be chosen not by the government but by a nine-member panel, the King's Counsel Selection Panel, chaired by a lay person, to include two barristers, two solicitors, one retired judge, and three non-lawyers. Formally, the appointment remains a royal one made on the advice of the Lord Chancellor, but without comment on individual applications. The Lord Chancellor supervises the process and reviews the panel's recommendations in general terms (to be satisfied that the process as operated is fair and efficient).
Application forms under the new system were released in July 2005 and the appointment of 175 new Queen's Counsel was announced on 20 July 2006. A total of 443 people had applied (including 68 women, 24 ethnic minority lawyers, and 12 solicitors). Of the 175 appointed, 33 were women, 10 were ethnic minorities, and four were solicitors. Six people were also appointed QC honoris causa.
The title of KC continues to be used. In 1998 two Northern Ireland barristers (Seamus Treacy and Barry Macdonald) opposed the requirement of swearing an oath of allegiance to the Crown. The Bar Council, the body which represents barristers' interests, had agreed (in the Elliott Report) that the royal oath should be dropped and replaced by a more neutral statement. It suggested that, instead of declaring services to Queen Elizabeth, barristers should "sincerely promise and declare that I will well and truly serve all whom I may lawfully be called to serve in the office of one of Her Majesty's Counsel, learned in the law according to the best of my skill and understanding".[dubious ]
In 2000, the Northern Ireland High Court ruled in the barristers' favour. After more wrangling, the barristers were permitted to make "a more neutral statement" of commitment to principles.[dubious ]
In 1997, the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Robert Carswell, wrote "I have little doubt myself that this is all part of an ongoing politically-based campaign to have the office of Queen's Counsel replaced by a rank entitled Senior Counsel, or something to that effect".
The independent bar is organised as the Faculty of Advocates and its members are known not as barristers but as advocates. The position of Queen's Counsel was not recognised before 1868. The Scottish bar did have a concept of senior counsel before the introduction of the formal rank of Queen's counsel. An advocate would self-declare that they were 'giving up writing', meaning that they would no longer draft pleadings and move onto a supervisory role in litigation. In practice this meant that the practitioner would review and revise the written pleadings of their junior, not that they would literally give up all writing.
Initially the status was reserved first for law officers (Lord Advocate and Solicitor General for Scotland) and soon after for the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates. In 1897 a petition by the Faculty of Advocates for the establishment of a Scottish roll of Queen's Counsel was approved, and the names of the first appointees were published in the Edinburgh Gazette on September 3, 1897. By decision of Lord President Robertson, these first Scottish Queen's counsel were not required to make a declaration not to act against the Crown, and so Scottish Queen's/King's counsel have never been required to obtain a licence to plead in order to do so.
In 2005 there were more than 150 QCs in Scotland. The appointment of King's Counsel is made on the recommendation of the Lord Justice General to the First Minister of Scotland, formerly the Secretary of State for Scotland. In the 1990s, rules were changed so that solicitors with rights of audience in the Court of Session or High Court of Justiciary were permitted to apply for appointment, and two or three have done so. A solicitor advocate who is so appointed is correctly designated as King's Counsel, Solicitor Advocate.
Courtesy appointments for Members of Parliament
Until the 1990s there was a practice that sitting members of the UK Parliament (MPs) who were barristers were (if they wished) appointed QC, sometimes known as a "courtesy" or even "false" silk (or sarcastically "nylons" being artificial silks), on reaching a certain level of seniority, of around fifteen years, at the bar (though not automatically on election when they were more junior). In the 1990s it was felt that the practice of granting silk to MPs in this way, without considering their abilities, devalued the rank and the practice was abolished.
However, for now the practice persists for law officers of the Crown. Former Attorney General for England and Wales, Jeremy Wright, was not a QC when he was appointed, a subject which attracted some comment. But, despite not having practised law for some time, Wright took silk shortly after his appointment, which was criticised by some as a breach of the protocol against "courtesy silk". Similarly when Harriet Harman was appointed as Solicitor General she was made a QC and when Suella Braverman took silk on 25 February 2020; earlier that month she had, like Wright, been appointed Attorney General.
Death of Queen Elizabeth II
Countries that retain the designation
Appointments in the
From 1993, the
The first states to change to the title of Senior Counsel were New South Wales in 1993 and Queensland in 1994. Most other states and the Commonwealth Government followed over the next 15 years, including the ACT in 1995, Victoria in 2000 (though this was reversed in 2014), Western Australia in 2001, Tasmania in 2005, and South Australia in 2008. In the Northern Territory, the rank of Queen's Counsel was never formally abolished, but in 2007 the rules of the Territory's Supreme Court were amended to facilitate the appointment of Senior Counsel by the Chief Justice. Those appointed Queen's Counsel (QC) before the change in each jurisdiction were permitted to retain the old title.
In the 2010s, some states moved to revert to the old title of Queen's Counsel. In 2013, Queensland restored the rank of Queen's Counsel.
The Commonwealth appointed Queen's Counsels until March 2007. On 8 July 2010, Gillard government Attorney-General Robert McClelland appointed the first Commonwealth "Senior Counsel". In March 2014, Attorney-General George Brandis KC (then QC) announced that the Commonwealth would revert to using the title of Queen's Counsel for new appointments and would give all existing Commonwealth Senior Counsel the option of changing their post-nominal to QC.
When taking judicial office in a superior court, a barrister loses the title of King's Counsel and only regains it if new letters patent are issued after the person leaves office. Conversely, since the appointment of Senior Counsel is not by letters patent, when a Senior Counsel takes office, there is no doctrinal reason why the title of Senior Counsel is lost. However, this is customarily not done, and the New South Wales Bar Association instructs that "KC" and "SC" postnominals should not be used for superior court judges.
In Canada, both the federal government and the provincial governments have the constitutional authority to appoint a lawyer as King's Counsel. This point was decided in 1897 by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in a case on appeal from the Canadian courts titled The Attorney General for the Dominion of Canada v. The Attorney General for the Province of Ontario (Queen's Counsel). The federal government asserted that it had sole power to appoint Queen's Counsel, because the appointment is an exercise of the royal prerogative and only the federal government could advise the monarch on the exercise of the royal prerogative. The province of Ontario responded that the Crown is just as much part of the provincial governments as at the federal level, and therefore the provinces could also advise the Crown to make appointments under the royal prerogative. The Judicial Committee ruled in favour of the provinces, upholding their power to make Queen's Counsel appointments.
During the reign of a queen, the title is properly "Her Majesty's Counsel learned in the law" but normally referred to as "Queen's Counsel" and abbreviated "Q.C." in English or "c.r." in French (conseiller de la reine or conseillère de la reine for a female counsel). During the reign of a king, the title is "King's Counsel" or "K.C." in English, but continues to be "c.r." in French (conseillier du roi or conseillière du roi).
Criticisms and reforms
Lawyers continue to be appointed King's Counsel by the federal government and by nine of the ten Canadian provinces. The award has been criticised in the past on the basis that appointment as King's Counsel depended largely on political affiliation. However, in those provinces which continue to appoint lawyers as King's Counsel reforms have been made to de-politicise the award. Candidates are increasingly screened by committees composed of representatives of the bench and the bar, who give advice to the relevant Attorney General on appointments. The reforms have been designed to make the award a recognition of merit by individual members of the bar, often coupled with community service.
Appointments by jurisdiction
The federal government stopped appointing Queen's Counsel in 1993, but resumed the practice in 2013 under the
Since 2015, under the Trudeau Ministry, federal appointment as a Queen's Counsel has been limited to the Attorney General of Canada. Jody Wilson-Raybould was appointed as Queen's Counsel when she served as Attorney General and David Lametti was appointed a Queen's Counsel on 15 April 2019.
The provincial Cabinet appoints lawyers, who must have been called to the bar for at least 10 years, as King's Counsel. The honorary title recognises lawyers who have made significant contributions to the legal profession or in public life. Traditionally, the appointments are made every second year, but no appointments were made between 2016 and 2020. The nomination process resumed in 2019. Applications were reviewed by a screening committee of members of the judiciary and the legal community, which submitted recommendations for appointment to the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General and Cabinet for consideration, who in turn recommends names to Cabinet. In 2020, the province designated over 130 lawyers as Queen's Counsel, and another round of appointees in February 2022.
King's Counsel are appointed by the provincial Cabinet on the advice of the Attorney General of British Columbia. No more than 7% of the bar of British Columbia can be awarded the designation. Before making the recommendation to Cabinet, the Attorney General is required by statute to consult with the Chief Justice of British Columbia, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia, and two lawyers appointed by the Law Society of British Columbia. A recipient must have at least five years' standing at the bar of British Columbia.
In practice, the Attorney General appoints an advisory committee which includes these officials and also the Chief Judge of the Provincial Court, the president of the British Columbia Branch of the Canadian Bar Association and the deputy attorney general. Candidates must be acknowledged by their peers as leading counsel, have demonstrated exceptional qualities of leadership in the profession, or have done outstanding work in legal scholarship.
In 2020, the province designated twenty-six lawyers as Queen's Counsel, from a group of 136 nominees.
The Attorney General is automatically appointed as King's Counsel on taking office.
The government of Manitoba stopped appointing King's Counsel in 2001. There was a proposal that the title would be replaced by Senior Counsel (S.C.). Appointments were to be made by the Law Society of Manitoba. However, the new designation was never adopted. Existing designations remain in effect. In 2019, Manitoba re-instituted the Queen's Counsel designation.
The Lieutenant Governor appoints King's Counsel on the advice of a committee comprising the
Newfoundland and Labrador
The Lieutenant Governor in Council appoints King's Counsel, on the recommendation of the Minister of Justice. The Minister is required to consult with the Legal Appointments Board, which consists of five individuals appointed by the Minister: two are from a list recommended by the Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, one is to be a lawyer from outside the metropolitan area of St John's, one is to be a bencher, and one is to be a lawyer with less than ten years at the bar. The appointments process has been criticised in the past as lacking transparency and being too open to political appointments. In 2017, the government appointed eleven lawyers as Queen's Counsel.
The Lieutenant Governor appoints King's Counsel on the advice of the provincial Cabinet. Recipients must have at least 15 years as a member of the bar of Nova Scotia. The Minister of Justice is advised by an independent advisory committee, through the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society. Eligible candidates can apply, or they can be nominated by others. Applications generally open in September of each year, with appointments made annually. According to the criteria published by the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society on the nomination form, candidates must demonstrate professional integrity, good character and outstanding contributions to the practice of law through recognition by other members of the profession as an exceptional barrister or solicitor, exceptional contributions through legal scholarship, teaching or continuing legal education, demonstration of exceptional qualities of leadership in the profession, and engaging in activities of a public or charitable nature in such a way as to raise the esteem in which the legal profession is held by the public. The Nova Scotia Barristers' Society also indicates that the committee is asked to consider regional, gender and minority representations among the persons recommended for appointment. In 2017, the government appointed 14 lawyers as Queen's Counsel.
- the designation was originally meant to recognise excellence in the courtroom, but the practice in Ontario was that it could be given to any lawyer, regardless of courtroom experience;
- the use of the designation misled the public, because it was more based on who one knows than what one knows;
- it was unfair to lawyers who for whatever reason have not been designated, leading to questions about their standing in the profession;
- no other profession received government awards of this type;
- the designation had been used in Ontario mainly as a form of political patronage.
In his statement, Premier Peterson stated that the government would stop awarding the designation and would move to revoke existing designations. However, although the Government of Ontario stopped awarding the designation, it did not formally abolish it. Lawyers appointed as Queen's Counsel prior to 1985 continued to use the Q.C. or c.r.
Lawyers who are designated Certified Specialist are recognized and experienced in their field of law and have met high standards imposed by the Law Society of Ontario. This is commonly identified as modern day replacement to the Queen's Counsel (QC) designation.
Ontario courts continued to recognize the Queen's Counsel designations of Ontario lawyers appearing before it where those lawyers were accorded the honorific by the Federal Government.
On 30 June 2023, the Attorney General for Ontario reinstituted the practice of appointing King's Counsel, in honour of the
Prince Edward Island
The Lieutenant Governor in Council (i.e. the provincial Cabinet) makes appointments on the recommendation of a committee consisting of the President of the Law Society of Prince Edward Island, a member of the council of the Law Society, a person appointed by the provincial Minister of Justice, a judge of either the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island, and a judge of the Provincial Court of Prince Edward Island. The committee's recommendations must be carried by at least a 4⁄5 vote. To be considered for appointment, a lawyer must have 10 years at the bar of Prince Edward Island. The lawyer must also meet the following three criteria: (1) must be learned in the law; (2) must have consistently exhibited a high standard of professional integrity; and (3) must be of very good character. In addition, the lawyer must meet at least one of the following six criteria: (1) must have a reputation for excellence in the practice of law; (2) must be recognized as a leading counsel; (3) must have great expertise and an outstanding reputation; (4) must have exhibited exceptional qualities of leadership in the legal profession; (5) must have performed outstanding work in the fields of legal education or legal scholarship; or (6) must have made a great contribution to community affairs or public service. In 2016, the government appointed two lawyers as Queen's Counsel.
The Government of Quebec stopped appointing Queen's Counsel in 1975. Over thirty years later, the Barreau of Quebec instituted a professional award, the distinction of Lawyer Emeritus / Avocat émérite, with the postnominal "Ad. E." The award is to recognise lawyers "who gain distinction as a result of their outstanding professional career, outstanding contribution to the profession or outstanding social and community standing that has brought honour to the legal profession". As of July 2018, the Barreau had awarded the distinction to over 350 lawyers.
The Lieutenant Governor-in-Council (i.e., the provincial Cabinet) appoints lawyers as King's Counsel. To be eligible for appointment, a lawyer must reside in Saskatchewan and must have been called to the bar of any province of Canada, the
In 2006, the title was renamed
Jurisdictions that have abolished the designation
In jurisdictions that have become republics, the office of Queen's Counsel has sometimes been replaced with an equivalent, for example,
With Barbados becoming a republic on 30 November 2021 and the President of Barbados replacing Queen Elizabeth II as head of state, barristers were no longer to be appointed as Queen's Counsel; however, those who had been appointed prior to the change of status were not required to adopt the title of Senior Counsel, and following the accession of King Charles to the British throne, were free to change their designation to King's Counsel.
When Cyprus was a crown colony, the title of Queen's Counsel was granted to the colony's Attorney General. Although most Attorneys General in Cyprus were British, the two Cypriots who served in this position also received this title. They were Stelios Pavlides, CMG, QC, 1943-1952, and Criton Tornaritis QC, 1952-1956, who was also the first Attorney General of the Republic of Cyprus after its independence in 1960. Also, this title was given to lawyers with an outstanding career in the Law Office of the Colonial Government, such as Ioannis Clerides, CBE, QC, Neoptolemos Paschalis, OBE, QC and George Chryssafinis, OBE, QC.
|Jyutping||jyu6 jung6 daai6 leot9 si1|
|Literal meaning||Barrister at His/Her Majesty's service|
|Jyutping||Zi1 sam1 daai6 leot9 si1|
|Literal meaning||Highly experienced and qualified Barrister|
In Hong Kong, the rank of Queen's Counsel was granted when it was a
The title of King's Counsel was conferred until July 1924. The title of
As a British Crown Colony, Malta adopted the system which lasted only seven years, starting from 14 August 1832. In the period, the main courts were housed at the Castellania, and the wearing of silk gowns was required by those sitting on the bench.
Nigeria replaced the QC nomenclature with the new title of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) beginning in 1975. Appointments are restricted to fewer than 30 lawyers a year, made by the Chief Justice of Nigeria on the recommendation of the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee, which is made up of senior judges and lawyers. The qualification requirements are almost identical to those required for appointment as Queen's Counsel. The SANs are entitled to wear silk gowns and enjoy similar privileges as the Queen's Counsel.
Since independence, the use of Queen's Counsel was replaced by
Following the establishment of a republic in 1961, the use of Queen's Counsel was replaced by
President's Counsel (postnominal PC) is a professional rank, as their status is conferred by the president, recognised by the courts and wear silk gowns of a special design. It is the equivalent of the rank of Queen's Counsel in the United Kingdom, which was used in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) until 1972 when Sri Lanka became a republic, when the position became that of Senior Attorney-at-Law. In 1984 the position became the President's Counsel. The holder can use the post-nominal letters PC after his or her name.
In Zambia the designation was changed to State Counsel after independence from Britain in 1964. Legal practitioners who enjoy the rank and dignity of State Counsel may use "SC" after their names. The procedure for appointment is more or less based on the English system, but it has been alleged that this merit-based system has recently been influenced by political patronage and that the last three presidents have mainly appointed their supporters. In 2013 the Law Association of Zambia objected to the process used when President Michael Sata appointed Mumba Kapumpa, John Sangwa and Robert Simeza as SCs.
Following the declaration of a republic by the
The following relates to the dress of King's Counsel at the Bar of England and Wales. Most other jurisdictions adopt the same dress, but there are some local variations.
King's Counsel in England and Wales have two forms of official dress, depending on whether they are dressing for appearance in court before a judge or a ceremonial occasion.
A male junior barrister wears a white shirt and white wing-collar with bands, underneath a double-breasted or three-piece lounge suit of dark colour. He has a black "stuff" gown over his suit, and wears a short wig of horsehair. A female junior barrister wears similar garb, except that the wing-collar with bands may be replaced with a court bib (or collarette).
Upon promotion to King's Counsel, the male barrister retains in court his winged collar, bands, and short wig. However, instead of an ordinary dark jacket, he wears a special black court coat (frock coat) and waistcoat in a style unique to King's Counsel or, alternatively, a long-sleeved waistcoat in similar style with no frock coat, known as a "bum freezer" because it is cut off at the waist.
He also replaces the black stuff gown of a junior barrister with a black silk gown, although cheaper variants are also worn, including gowns of the same cut but all wool, or in a silk-wool mix, or in artificial silk. The all-wool gown is, strictly speaking, a mourning gown, the Bar being still in mourning for Queen Anne who died on 1 August 1714, but that point is now of historical interest only. A female King's Counsel wears a gown and wig similar to that of her male counterparts.
For ceremonial occasions, King's Counsel wear black breeches and black stockings instead of trousers, and patent leather court shoes with buckles. They wear the same black frock coat and waistcoat worn when appearing in court (never the "bum freezer", however) but add lace at the wrists and a lace stock at the collar. Bands are no longer worn at the collar in addition to the lace, and the winged collar is also dispensed with. They have white cotton gloves, but these are invariably carried and not worn. This part of their ceremonial dress is taken from the standard ceremonial dress worn at the Royal Court (as opposed to the Courts of Justice) by other courtiers.
In addition, however, King's Counsel wear distinctive full-bottomed wigs and their silk gowns. The silk gown is the same as that worn when appearing in court. It is this gown which gives rise to the colloquial reference to King's Counsel as silks and to the phrase taking silk referring to their appointment.
When wearing the full bottomed wig, King's Counsel have a black rosette hanging from the back of the neck, which was originally intended to catch oil and powder that might otherwise mark the silk gown. Modern wigs, however, are made of horsehair and so there is no longer any oil or powder.
- Senior Counsel, similar status used by some Australian jurisdictions and by some jurisdictions in which the British monarch is not head of state.
- Serjeant-at-law, a now defunct rank of senior barrister.
- King's Counsel Selection Panel, The King's Counsel Selection Panel for England and Wales.
- Silk (TV series), a BBC 2011 legal drama showing the competitive pursuit of silk.
- Kavanagh QC, a 1995–2001 ITV legal drama starring John Thaw.
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- Oxford English Dictionary, v. Silk.
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The hopes of a rising cohort of black and Asian practitioners would be dashed at a stroke by the abolition of silk, and a huge opportunity to promote diversity in the legal profession and on the bench would be missed.
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The six appointees in 2006 were...
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I do not believe it to be right that with the now well established mechanism in place for Queen's Counsel Appointments that the Law Officers should be awarded Silk as a courtesy title.
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The holding of any office under the Crown, whether within or without His Majesty's dominions, shall not be affected, nor shall any fresh appointment thereto be rendered necessary, by the demise of the Crown.
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