23 Dec 2022

Silk numbers fall as just one solicitor-advocate appointed in 2023 round

The first appointment round for King’s Counsel in 70 years sees 95 silks make the grade

The Royal Courts of Justice, London Shutterstock

Just one solicitor-advocate has been selected from a field of 95 new King’s Counsel in the 2023 appointments round, which was announced today. Michael McClure, a disputes partner at Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF), was appointed from eight applicants, compared to five silks appointed in 2022, the same number as in 2021.

McClure, who specialises in arbitration, is the fourth KC currently practising at HSF, alongside Chris Parker KC, Paula Hodges KC and Hong Kong-based Simon Chapman KC. 

The appointment places HSF alongside arbitration boutique Three Crowns and global giant Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom with four silks each, with Freshfields topping the list with five. They all specialise in international arbitration, public international law, investor-state disputes and related litigation.

The number of solicitor-advocates appointed is the lowest since 2010, when only Marcus Trinick QC of Eversheds was appointed, following the introduction of an independent appointment system in 2006. 

Two solicitors – SJ Berwin’s Tim Taylor QC and media lawyer David Price QC – were appointed in 2011, while in 2012 there were only two applications from solicitor-advocates, neither successful. Three solicitor silks were appointed in 2008 and 2015 apiece.

Commercial sets also saw a reduced round of appointments, with Brick Court noting three silks – Craig Morrison, Richard Eschwege and Daniel Piccinin. Essex Court Chambers, having celebrated six new silks in 2022, saw Ruth den Besten, Siddharth Dhar and Angeline Welsh also appointed. Blackstone Chambers and 4 Pump Court saw two new silks each.

One Essex Court had one silk elevated, as did Fountain Court and 7 King’s Bench Walk. Doughty Street Chambers had the highest number of successful applicants, with five members advanced.

The appointments, the first to be made by King Charles III, followed the advice of the Lord Chancellor Dominic Raab MP, after considering recommendations made by an independent selection panel chaired for the first time by Monisha Shah.    

The total of 95 appointees from 279 applicants marks the second year silk applications have fallen. The 2022 round saw 101 lawyers successfully apply, while 2021 saw 116 appointments. From a benchmark high of 443 applications in 2006, this marks a year-on-year decline in the scheme, which is self-funded.

Thirty-six women applicants were successful, from 77 who applied, as compared to 45 out of 72 female applicants in 2022. Last year’s percentage of women appointed – 46% – remains the highest yet.

Shah said: “I am particularly pleased that the proportion of women amongst those appointed – 38% – matches the proportion of women in the relevant segment of the profession.”

She added: “The proportion of applicants from minority ethnic backgrounds who have been appointed is also broadly equal to the proportion of advocates in the relevant segment of the profession,” with black applicants faring slightly better in 2022.

Fourteen out of 43 applicants declaring non-white ethnic origins were successful. Last year, 15 silks from 38 applicants with minority ethnic origins were appointed, although the success rate was lower than in 2021 when 46% of non-white applicants succeeded.

This year’s announcement from the Ministry of Justice came unusually late, just before Christmas, with the selection panel reporting to Raab – in his second spell in the job – at the end of October.

Raab also announced nine honorary King’s Counsel, the most prominent of which were legal technologist Professor Richard Susskind OBE and ITN head of legal John Battle, for his court broadcasting work. 

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