Some 94 barristers and one solicitor made up the first cohort of King’s Counsel in more than seven decades, announced just before Christmas, the smallest number in 10 years.
The awarding body, KC Appointments, received 280 applications for silk in 2022, six more than the year before, and invited 145 of them to interview.
Applicants are interviewed unless it is clear from the assessments received that they have no reasonable prospects of success – 2022 saw a higher than usual proportion of applicants filtered out.
The 95 recommendations for appointment represented 34% of all applicants and 66% of those interviewed. The last time the number was so small was 2012/13, when just 183 applied – the lowest figure ever – and 82 appointed.
The number of women who applied (78) was a record but not the number appointed (36). Last year, the figures were 72 and 45 respectively. But women were still far more successful than men – 47% were appointed, compared to 29% of men.
Similarly, the 43 applicants who declared an ethnic origin other than white was a record and 14 were appointed. The highest number appointed was in 2019, when 22 of 42 succeeded.
Of the 263 applicants who answered the question, seven identified as gay men and three as gay women. Eight of them were interviewed and seven appointed. One of the three bisexual applicants was interviewed and appointed.
Ten of the 19 disabled applicants were interviewed and six appointed.
The 28 applicants aged 40 and younger on the date applications closed were far more likely to be appointed than the 80 aged 51 or over (54% v 24%).
Some 108 applicants (39%) had applied in at least one of the three previous competitions; 50 were not invited to interview, although 22 of them had been interviewed previously. New applicants (35%) were only a little more successful than repeat applicants (32%).
None of the eight employed advocates who applied succeeded – only one was interviewed – while there was a big fall in the number of solicitor applicants, eight, compared with 21 in 2021. Two were interviewed and one appointed.
KC Appointments said: “The agreed process was designed to enable solicitor-advocates to seek appointment with the assurance that they would be assessed fairly alongside barrister applicants.
“We note that the level of applications from solicitor advocates remains comparatively low. For whatever reason, there appears to be some hesitancy on the part of solicitor advocates to apply for silk, even where they may be well qualified to do so.”
The cost of becoming a KC increased in 2022 for the first time in a decade. The application fee was £1,900 (previously £1,800), while successful applicants have to pay a further £3,200 (up from £3,000), in addition to the cost of Letters Patent.
The Ministry of Justice also announced nine honorary KCs, including renowned legal futurist Professor Richard Susskind and James Wakefield, who was instrumental in establishing the Council of the Inns of Court as a charity and founding the Inns of Court College of Advocacy. He also helped to write new sanctions guidance for the Bar.
Barrister and leading media lawyer John Battle, head of legal and compliance at ITN, received the appointment for his work on filming court proceedings, while solicitor Dr Ann Olivarius was recognised for her work in the fields of women’s rights, sexual harassment and sexual abuse.
A dual-qualified US lawyer, she is founding partner of McAllister Olivarius, a transatlantic law firm with offices in Maidenhead and New York specialising in cases of race and gender discrimination. Dr Olivarious was also awarded an OBE in the New Year’s Honours list for services to justice and to women and equality.
The academics given honorary KCs were: Lionel Bently, a professor of intellectual property law at Cambridge University; Richard Edwin Ekins, a professor of law and constitutional government at Oxford University and head of the Policy Exchange’s Judicial Power Project; Rosemary Hunter, professor of law and socio-legal studies and head of the law school at Kent University, whose work on domestic abuse has “directly affected legislative developments”; and Julian Vincent Roberts, emeritus professor of criminology at Oxford and executive director of the Sentencing Academy.
The final recipient was Sir Michael Wood, a barrister practising public international law from 20 Essex Street and a long-serving member of the UN International Law Commission.