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Bar Talk
22 April, 2010  
Silk selection refinements

Roger Gyles QC is beavering away on his report about how to improve the way new silks are discovered in NSW … Are they born like that and naturally float to the top? ... Wild views are flushed out


Roger Gyles is writing his report to the NSW bar council on “possible improvements” to the silk selection process.

He has just about completed it and it should be with the bar’s inner sanctum by the end of the month.

The bar says it will be “informed” by the report, which means it doesn’t promise anything.

In a circular to members on December 9 the president, Tom Bathurst, said that the council would like to implement any changes “before the 2011 senior counsel selection round”.

In subsequent communications the bar has said it will “consider the report and have any relevant changes in place in time for the 2010 silk selection process”.

imageIt does rather seem like things are a bit of moveable feast.

Gyles (pic) has had to work with about 40 submissions and he has consulted heads of jurisdiction, the president of the Law Society as well as looking at the British system of appointment and the way they do it in other states.

No doubt he’s also considered barrister Greg Curtin’s attack on the current appointment arrangements (“unfair … capricious”) and his seven point plan for reform.

The deadline for submissions initially was the first week of February.

This was extended to February 19 and by early March there was no deadline at all, although it was expected that anyone who wanted to say something would have said it by the time the report was completed.

Clearly, responses have been sluggish.

Will Gyles’ report be released to the great unwashed?

“No decision has been made, but it’s a possibility.”

Some of the submissions have been interesting, to say the least.

imageJeffrey Phillips SC (pic), from Denman Chambers, submitted that there should be a return to queens counsel and that all senior counsel should be invited to opt for an upgrade.

He believes the two tier system of silk leads to confusion “in the public mind and the minds of the media”.

New Zealand switched back from SCs to QCs last June. Phillips added:

“I believe that whilst this country remains a constitutional monarchy the 1992 change from the QC post-nominal was petty, undemocratic and unnecessary.”

Apart from that, Phillips submitted that he is “generally happy with the operation of the senior counsel protocol.

The great agitator for silk reform, Frank Stevens UB, refused to make a submission.

He says the whole thing stinks and in February told Philip Selth, managing barman at the Grill:

“Outside of, say the Altstotter syndrome, it is rare to view a large number of persons purportedly committed to the rule of law so ready to pervert its processes to serve their own ends.”

imageAltstotter was the German lawyer blamed for the legal profession’s support of Hitler.

Tom Bathurst (pic) also got a blast from Stevens in January.

He made four points:

* Gyles appointment to review these procedures is a breach of the bar rules in that counsel are not permitted to advise on matters in which they have an interest.

* Selth is in breach of the bar’s constitution in that he denied Stevens access to to the bar’s financial records relating to the senior counsel selection committee.

* Those who benefit from cartels “are the least likely to provide the community with a light by which it can determine the manner in which they are deceived”.

* The bar’s own statistics show the appointments are based on social, political, economic and geographic considerations and not on merit.

The great silk trade certainly brings on some hot opinions, probably because the current system is the cause of so much division and unhappiness.

If Gyles can get close to fixing that he’ll have worked miracles.

The alternative? More of the same.