Success rate continues to fall as 95 new KCs appointed

Barristers: Highest number of female applicants

The appointments of 95 new King’s Counsel (see list here) were announced today after the highest number of applications for 15 years – but the success rate is falling.

The success rate for women in particular dropped significantly for 2023 – at 38%, it is the lowest since 2006 and far below the all-time high of 63% recorded in 2021.

Figures from KC Appointments (KCA), the body that handles the process, showed that 284 applications were received in total, similar to recent years but numerically the highest since 2008. A little over half were interviewed.

The overall success rate was 34%, the fifth year in a row it was lower than the year before, having been 45% in 2018.

There were 79 women applicants, two more than in 2022 and the highest number ever (28% of the total). Of those, 62% were invited to interview, “somewhat higher than the proportion of men interviewed”, and 30 were recommend for appointment.

The success rate for men is improving, however. Having reached a recent low of 28% in 2021, it was 32% last year.

There were 48 applicants (17%) who declared an ethnic origin other than white. KC Appointments interviewed 22 of them and recommended 13 for appointment – 27% of Black, Asian and minority ethnic applicants compared with 35% of white applicants.

Eight of the 17 applicants who declared a disability succeeded, as did half of the 14 gay applicants.

Those who were aged 40 and younger were significantly more successful in being appointed than those 51 and older (43% v 25%). Repeat and new applicants had broadly the same success rate (35% v 33%).

Only one employed barrister and one solicitor were appointed – seven applied from each group.

KCA 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.”

Monisha Shah, chair of the selection panel at KCA, said: “The selection process is a rigorous and demanding one and I believe that every one of these new silks will be a credit to their profession…

“The KC award for excellence is based on evidence from assessors. We do not operate quotas for appointment; however, we continue to monitor diversity data closely and while I would not expect successful applications from those with protected characteristics to increase each and every year, I am pleased to note that application rates from people of minority ethnic backgrounds and female applicants are strong and the number of successful applications remain broadly in line with the eligible population.”

Five honorary KCs have also been named:

  • Professor Anthony Arnull, who specialises in EU law;
  • Professor Norman Doe, director of the Centre for Law and Religion at Cardiff Law School, who has revived the study of ecclesiastical law in England and Wales;
  • Michael Meyer, head of the international law department at the British Red Cross;
  • Sir Bob Neill MP, chair of the House of Commons justice select committee; and
  • Professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, currently at Queen’s University Belfast, who has advised the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and is the United Nations special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.

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