Just six solicitors have applied to become Queen?s Counsel (QC) in the second competition under the revamped system, while the overall number of applications for silk is down by a quarter on last year, it has been revealed.

QC Appointments, which administers the scheme, said it had received 333 applications for the latest competition, down from 443 the previous year. In last year?s competition ? the first since the award was suspended in 2003 ? 175 applicants were successful, including four of the 12 solicitors who applied.

David Watts, head of the secretariat for QC Appointments, said the fall indicated there had been less holding back last year than some had thought. He rejected claims that the cost of applying ? ?5,500 if successful ? had deterred potential candidates. ?There is a lot of uncertainty in the legal profession due to many changes that are taking place, and this may have discouraged people from applying for silk,? he suggested.

Mr Watts added: ?Given the relatively high success rate of the solicitors who applied last year, I?m surprised more did not apply this time. The panel would have hoped to get more applications from solicitors.

?Clearly, after last year and this year, we will have to consider how best to manage the process, but what the outcome of that will be, I can?t say.?

Mark Clough QC, former chairman of the Solicitors Association of Higher Court Advocates (SAHCA), said the cost and the amount of work involved in preparing an application could have deterred some. ?All these factors are the same for solicitors as for barristers and it is crucial that solicitor court advocates be encouraged by the Law Society to continue to compete with barristers.?

Law Society President Fiona Woolf said it is ?very disappointing? that so few solicitors have applied. She added: ?It does not reflect the excellence that we see and we will be working with SAHCA and others to encourage more solicitors to put themselves forward in the future.?

Ms Woolf added that the Society would keep the arrangements under review, to ensure that the QC scheme is meeting the needs of the legal profession in the 21st century.?

Catherine Baksi

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