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Bar Talk
28 November, 2008  
School prefects

Why on earth not let Johnny Riordan have his silk jersey? No explanation, no natural justice for the old trooper. Now that he’s failed, again, he mounts a searing case for the elimination of the bar’s honours system

imageJohn Riordan of the Melbourne bar ‘n’ grill bears a resemblance to Sydney’s Margaret Cunneen (seen here).

He put his hand up six times for the rosette, with nil result.

By the sixth time Margaret had become a cause celébrè with the tissues whipping up a storm about the insistent rejection of an able woman.

Among the most eager of her opponents were women.

But by the sixth application she was deemed, as if by magic, to deserved the accolade she hadn’t deserved on the fifth application, a year earlier.

Funny, how after 17 years as a barrister, one’s learning and skill can dramatically improve in the space of a year.

Of course, Cunneen had to do penance after her Ninian Stephen lecture in which she cast aspersions on criminal defence barristers’ tricks.

She ended up before the stipes after complaints were made by adornments of the profession.

Maybe Riordan is being punished for conducting a noisy campaign against the process that keeps rejecting him. One is expected to accept one’s disappointment uncomplainingly.

Last year he threatened to sue the chief justice after his fourth rejection and sought to bring on an extraordinary general meeting of the bar that he hoped would result in the entire Silk Road being resurfaced.

imageThere was a swirl of activity in 2007. Here are some of the missives generated by John Riordan (pic) on the Melbourne silk “scam”:

  • Letter to the Chief Justice (Earl) Warren, Feb. 20, 2007, complaining about the “extraordinary and secret intervention by the court in the ongoing debate regarding the process of silk selection”. The court, he said, had pressured the bar into accepting the status quo. Further, the court should withdraw from the selection process.
  • Letter to bar chairman Michael Shand, Feb. 28, 2007. This was in response to the decision by the bar council to confirm its support for the current process of appointment of SCs.
  • Proposed reforms to SC selection, Oct. 25, 2007. This is where Riordan pushed for change so that unsuccessful candidates could obtain “feedback” and/or “re-consideration”.

    It all came to nought. The mandarins of the bar did not want to get up Earl’s nostril.

    They declared unsuccessful applicants will always be unhappy, regardless of what system is in place, so get used to it.

    Now John Riordan has let it be known that his days of desperately seeking silk are finished.

    imageThat is just as well because he has written to grand Poo Bah, G. John Digby (pic) calling for the abolition of the gong:

    “If a barrister is excellent, the market will find and brief him or her accordingly. There is no need to decorate him or her with a rosette.”

    If it can’t be done fairly, with a system of redress, then the whole thing should be closed down. Riordan (major) in his latest letter describes the current arrangements for silk selection as, variously:

    “Flawed … archaic … inconsistent … elitist … unnecessary … antediluvian … anti-competitive … anachronistic … unfair … inappropriate … without natural justice … lacking in transparency.”

    That just about covers it.

    Of course, none of this would be the case if instead of being mean they’d just give John the bauble.

    It’s not as though he’s undeserving. He’s been beavering away for 34 years, he’s as good at the arms and legs stuff as anyone else in that jurisdiction, and was founding editor of The Laws of Australia, which was written in a “gender free manner” and launched in the Supreme Court library, no less.

    Once silked then he too could:

    “Significantly increase fees … bask in the rewards … dress up … feed his ego.”

    He’s right though. It’s one of life’s little marvels that barristers swallow a system that is devoid of justice, natural or otherwise.

    Anyway, you can find the 2008 list of those who are newly basking, right here – 12 chaps and two chapettes.

    According to the grill’s web site there are in Vic 219 silks and 1,359 juniors. That is, 14 percent of the bar are QCs or SCs.

    In NSW, 2008 also saw 14 appointments (two female). In NSW there were 127 applicants. We don’t know how many applicants there were in Victoria because that is a state secret.

    In NSW there are 2,744 barristers, of which 579 are silk, i.e. 21 percent.

    Why is the silk quota set so low in Victoria? If they’d let John be a tuck shop monitor the percentage of prefects south of the Murray would only be 16 percent of the total.

    That’s still a comfortable racket.

    Pic: Margaret Cunneen© Mark Tedeschi


Reader Comments

Posted by: Anonymous
Date: December 6, 2008, 4:56 pm

Fight the good fight, John. It will be your courage to challenge and reform that will be remembered long after the bullshit silk system is abolished. The market for legal services is changing rapidly. The time is fast approaching when the SC thing will go the way of the horsehair wig.The public and many solicitors know that legal services at SC rates is not value for money. Just give it time.As the Bard said :he who laughs last laughs best !