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Bar Talk
5 November, 2003  
A Silk's Shame

A voice from the inside on the selection of silks – a sham process disgraces the profession


A letter to the editor of Justinian in response to his column in The Sydney Morning Herald on the recent selection of silks

image”In case you do not know it, you are loathed and cursed by the upper echelons of the Bar Association. But for my part, thank goodness there is someone who is ready to expose the quiet scandalous way the public is fooled into believing that those who are anointed with the hallowed sign of SC have the mark of excellence bestowed upon them.

As one of those who have just been blessed in this way, I suppose I should not be complaining. But I must tell you that I am just a little ashamed at the way I have had to get there, after trying unsuccessfully by other means. Not that I regard myself as unworthy, but rather because the merit of my application was not the thing upon which I was selected. That was incidental. The view is that 90 percent or more of those who apply fit the criteria (and if you have been able to survive this game for 15 years or more then you are certainly competent, or someone is funding you in a dud practice year in and year out). So it comes down to a quota, and with so few chosen each year and so many putting up their hands one really needs to have an inside running or you will remain at the barrier naively believing that the race was fair.

The association goes through this charade of “consulting widely” a group of unknowns who may or may not know you (and in most cases it is better that they do not because the reasons to blackball a candidate far outweigh the readiness to be objectively fair and generous) and then comes all the backdoor lobbying. And because the more silks you have on a floor the higher the value of your rooms, quite fierce lobbying goes on to promote certain candidates.

The value of chambers at Blackstone will no doubt jump 50 percent (after its five candidates got up) The same happened to William Deane. They were without one silk for years. Then ex-president John Coombes joined that floor, and voila! three silks in one hit last time up and another this year. In some cases floors are even offering various concessions in floor fees, etc. to get prominent insiders to join them, hoping they will deliver.

If this kind of thing were to be going on in any other profession and a candidate called “foul” then I have no doubt some worthy silk would have the gall to stand up in the Equity Division and tut-tut about it whilst His/Her Honour would be saying, “Quite so, quite so”.

Please keep up the good work. The system is a disgrace to this profession and must eventually be cleaned up. Indeed, the fairest thing would be to abolish the whole concept. That should have been done when the government decided to abolish QCs. Perhaps the press could start by not referring to QC/SCs every time one is mentioned in a report.”

Anonymous (for obvious reasons).