Queen’s Counsel (Q.C.) is a royal patent designation with a long and distinguished tradition in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. Sir Francis Bacon was appointed the first counsel to the Queen during the reign of Elizabeth I in 1597. But what does it mean today?
Over time, the practice of recognizing excellence in the legal profession made its way to the colonies. In the various jurisdictions of Canada, the Q.C. designation has been a matter of controversy over the last 25 years or so.
The practice of awarding Q.C.s was discontinued by the Government of Ontario in 1985. Quebec did away with Queen’s Counsel appointments in 1976. The federal government gave the practice up in 1993. And Manitoba replaced the Q.C. designation in 1999, with the new honour of Senior Counsel (S.C.).
The criticism of the Q.C. designation is that various governments have abused it as a patronage award which owed more to political allegiance than it did to excellence in courtroom advocacy or in law generally. Other provinces have written criteria which those lawyers considered for the Q.C. designation must meet. Newfoundland and Labrador has no criteria for the award of the honour, except the requirement that the recipient be practicing at the bar for 10 years or more.
It is high time that criteria were adopted in this province which set out a test for the qualities a lawyer should exhibit in order to receive the honour. Without criteria, the case will be all the stronger that it means little and should be done away with to prevent political abuse.
For injury claimants considering what lawyer may be best for their case, a Q.C. designation is something to note, an indicator of respect in the profession, but much less important than other factors.