Independent Observer’s Comments
Recommendation for appointment of silks to the First Minister is a matter for the Lord Justice General alone, having considered all the information provided by applicants, responses from Senators and others consulted and his own knowledge of the applicants. There is no fixed quota of Queen’s Counsel to be appointed in any year.
The Lord Justice General endeavours to ensure that there is an adequate supply of Queen’s Counsel providing extensive experience of appellate advocacy in the Scottish courts. He has a responsibility in relation to the efficient business of the courts to ensure a suitable range of expertise at the Senior Bar to promote public confidence. The Lord Justice General consulted with the Dean of Faculty and the President of the Law Society of Scotland to identify the extent of any perceived need to increase the number of Queen’s Counsel in particular areas of legal practice.
The advertising arrangements were similar to last year and appeared fit for purpose. The time table for response was slightly shorter than last year however it gave candidates adequate notice to submit their applications. A wide range of media was used and it was appropriate for the category of appointment.
The Lord Justice General wished to complete the appointment process in time for newly appointed Silks to be introduced at the beginning of the new term in September 2016.
The Guide for applicants provides clear, concise information and an explanation of the procedure to be followed. A link is provided to the application form. The Lord Justice General’s private secretary is available to provide further clarification and feedback.
As I reported last year, there was a wide variation of information provided by applicants in the self-assessment part of the application. Most continue to provide information in a paper apart and the number of pages apart ranged from one page to 26 pages, the majority of applicants (27) provided between one and 10 pages. A minority of applicants made specific reference to the Criteria for Recommendation set out in the Guide for Applicants.
Solicitor Advocates have the opportunity to provide additional information in the application form itself under the heading ‘Work as a Solicitor Advocate’. All Solicitor Advocate applicants used the opportunity to provide between one and 19 pages of additional information. Few of the Advocate applicants used the section in the Application Form headed ‘General’ to provide additional information.
Most applicants, when asked to provide detail of experience before the courts including lists of cases, adhered to the requirement that the information related to the last 5 years. Some applicants provided explanation in relation to the cases listed. Applicants provided considerable detail of their experience and competence and all provided 2 references as required by the Guide.
All 28 Senators completed the assessment forms. All gave their assessments based on the application and self-assessment and the criteria for recommendation outlined in the Guide for Applicants. The assessments varied in the amount of detail provided to support the grade chosen. Recommendations appeared to be objective, consistent and based on knowledge of the applicant, however as in previous years the percentage of senators indicating that they had insufficient knowledge of the applicant to comment remained high.
Although the assessment form does not have a tick box for Senators to indicate if they acted as a referee for an applicant, all Senators, who provided a reference indicated that they had done so. Senators indicated in 18 applications that they had provided references for the applicant. In 16 of the 31 applications, 20 or more senators indicated “insufficient knowledge of the applicant” to comment. This amounted to 68.5%.
The Lord Justice General is minded to appoint a panel of senior senators to provide comment on future applications in light of this. Consideration is also being given to charging an application fee and to a biennial appointment round.
It was clear from discussion and scrutiny of the papers, that the Lord Justice General had taken account of all the comments made by senators, applied his own knowledge of candidates and had given careful consideration to every application.
The Lord Justice General wrote to the Dean of the Faculty of Advocate, the President of the Law Society and the Lord Advocate to seek confirmation that nothing in the conduct or circumstances of the applicants to be recommended to the First Minister would make recommendation inappropriate. On receipt of the necessary confirmation, the Lord Justice General made the recommendations referred to above to the First Minister for Scotland.
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