QCs will be selected from next year by an independent panel including non-lawyers, under a new system which could allow references from clients to play a part in the decision.

The scheme will replace the much-criticised traditional system, based on "secret soundings" with senior judges, under which the lord chancellor selected the elite cadre of advocates. The title of Queen's Counsel is much coveted as a mark of success at the Bar. Most QCs are white, male barristers.

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