We are often asked questions about QCs, most probably because the image of leading barristers has been epitomised over the years in leading television dramas such as Silk and Kavanagh QC, it is therefore not surprising that you may want to discover more and consider whether you ought to instruct a QC to defend your case.
So, first, what is a QC?
A QC, to put it somewhat grandly, is ‘one of Her Majestys’ Counsel, learned in the law.’
The first thing to know is that there is no actual connection to Her Majesty, as QCs, while appointed with the final authority of the Queen, are in fact selected by an independent appointments commission.
In practical terms, QCs are barristers or solicitors who have been able to evidence the highest courtroom skills; it is an award for excellence in advocacy.
While the figures vary year on year, about 10% of the bar (barristers profession) are QCs, so it is a pretty select group. There are very few solicitor QCs as the ability of solicitors to apply was only extended to them quite recently, and the number of solicitors who specialise in advocacy is relatively low.
There are also honorary QCs who in most instances do not practice at all (such as legal academics), or if they do are not allowed to use the title for that purpose.
Do I need a QC?
There are some things to consider. The first is that the QC may not be the best person for the job. In many cases, before the magistrates’ court, it is often better to instruct a highly experienced local solicitor who knows the court and this type of court procedure. It may be that a QC who is accustomed to defending fraud cases at the Old Bailey may be quite useless appearing on a drink-driving accusation at Warrington Magistrates’ Court.
But, generally speaking, in a perfect world, it makes sense to have the best available advocate, if you can. The ‘best’ may not always mean a Qc though.
If the case is not the most complex, it may well be that a highly experienced junior advocate can more than adequately deal with it. There are also some specialist areas where a junior advocate may be more experienced; we often see this in regulatory work for example.
It is also essential that the advocate works seamlessly as a team with your solicitor to ensure the best case preparation possible; this is something that we value particularly highly as it can significantly affect the overall outcome.
Where liberty is at risk, it is, however, understandable that some people will wish to leave nothing to chance, and will feel a particular level of comfort in instructing a QC.
So, for most people, the issue is not ‘should I?’, it becomes one of ‘can I?’.
So, can I instruct a QC?
If you are funding your defence costs, the crucial question is whether you can afford to instruct a QC. In some instances, it may be possible to instruct a QC alone to defend, but in others, a QC and junior advocate will be needed (and ironically might be more cost-effective).
It is impossible to give indicative costs as this will vary greatly depending on the type of case, the volume of papers, whether it is a guilty plea or contested trial, and if a trial, the likely length.
In all but the most straightforward guilty plea cases the cost can easily reach into the tens of thousands, so for all but the very wealthy, this is a considered decision and one that should not be made lightly. We will of course carefully navigate you through all of the available options.
If your case is legally aided, then it is very unlikely that we can instruct a QC unless the case is one of particular gravity or the utmost complexity. Most people would assume for example that a QC would be permitted in all murder cases, but surprisingly that is not the case. If the option of a QC is available, we will make the application for you and advise of the outcome.
Many people ask whether they or someone on their behalf can pay privately for a QC while receiving legal aid funding for the other elements of the case. If that is something that you wish to discuss, then please speak to us at the earliest opportunity.
In conclusion, there are many cases where a QC is desirable if it can be achieved, however, the vast majority of cases will nor merit a QC, and you can be assured that we will ensure representation designed to bring about the best possible outcome.
As a firm, we are immensely proud of the strong working relationship that we have with all of the advocates we regularly instruct. It is probably this close relationship more than anything else which affects case outcomes, so even if you cannot secure a QC to represent you, you should not feel that you are not getting the very best service.