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Lawyers push for return of the QC, citing competitive disadvantage

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The state’s legal industry is asking the government to reintroduce the title of QC, so potential clients can more easily recognise the distinction of its best-performing and highest-paid barristers, InDaily can reveal.

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The Rann Labor Government abolished the QC (Queen’s Counsel) in favour of SC (Senior Counsel) in 2008 – although then-QCs were allowed to retain their title.

South Australia was reportedly the last state to make the change.

However, several Australian states have since reverted to the monarchical title for their most revered barristers and the South Australian Bar Association wants in.

Association president Mark Hoffmann QC – who was appointed to the title in 2006 – told InDaily many people still don’t know what SC means, whereas people immediately recognise QC as a sign of professional distinction.

He said members of the association had passed a motion last year calling for senior silks to be given the option of converting their post-nominal S into a Q – and for new silks to be referred to by the latter letter.

A handful of barristers are appointed Senior Counsel by parliament on the recommendation of the Chief Justice every year.

Hoffmann argued that South Australian lawyers would gain a competitive advantage if the State Government agreed to the change – especially when seeking work in international arbitration, and especially in Asian countries.

Although SC is a formally recognised title in some Asian jurisdictions, said Hoffmann, QC is “held in the highest regard”, universally.

The change would also benefit the best-performing barristers working domestically, because members of the South Australian public also had a better recognition of QC than SC, Hoffmann added.

Attorney-General Vickie Chapman told InDaily this morning that she was considering the Bar Association’s request, although she had higher priorities, “like keeping victims of domestic violence safe, strengthening sentencing laws and ensuring South Australians have faith in our legal justice system”.

“However, I have received a submission from the Bar Association regarding the title of Queen’s Counsel for Barristers in South Australia,” said Chapman.

“Notably, both Victoria and Queensland have reinstated the Queen’s Counsel title, shunning the previous moves towards the use of Senior Counsel.

“The priority of the SA Bar is to have a level playing field when working in other Australian jurisdictions and internationally, where the title of QC rather than SC has prominence.”

She added that her predecessor, Labor’s John Rau, applied for and was granted the title of SC during his final term of Government – “something I definitely won’t be doing myself”.

Rau said he was indifferent to whether top barristers were called SC or QC, although he characterised the 2008 move as “some sort of misguided republican gesture” and he could see some merit in reversing it.

“(It was) just sort of hollow symbolism … some sort of misguided republican gesture,” he told InDaily yesterday.

Making the change to QC might improve competitive opportunities for some SA lawyers overseas, he said, “but I’m not anti-republican either … I personally don’t have any strong view about it.”

Michael Atkinson says he was on leave at the time that then-Premier Mike Rann, acting in Atkinson’s role as Attorney-General, changed the Q to an S.

He said the move was the result of a prominent view within the Labor Party at the time that there should be no official state endorsement of the monarchy.

He told InDaily the only Queen’s Counsel at the time that took the option of converting their title to Senior Counsel was Chris Kourakis – now Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

“(All others) who were QC … held it to their breast dearly,” said Atkinson.

“They think it has a certain caché.”

InDaily has contacted Kourakis for comment.

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