Four new Senior Counsel

At the invitation of the Chief Justice, Madame Roxane George-Wiltshire, I made the welcoming presentation on the occasion of the admission of four lawyers to the Inner Bar as Senior Counsel on Friday last. This is what I said:

“It is an honour and a privilege to welcome to the Inner Bar the four Senior Counsel whose appointments were announced on December 30, 2017. According to a statement from the Ministry of the Presidency, President David Granger ‘having considered their high quality of service in the legal profession and with confidence in their knowledge of the law’ appointed Kalam Azad Juman Yassin, Josephine Whitehead, Fitz Le Roy Peters and Andrew Mark Fitzgerald Pollard as Senior Counsel with effect from January 1, 2018.

“On this occasion of the formal admission of our four new Senior Counsel to the Inner Bar, I have no doubt that they take great pride in their achievement. They will no doubt reflect on their journeys in the legal profession that brought them to this day, the toil they engaged in to perfect their skills and the exacting requirements of legal practice, as they secure justice for their clients. They have experienced and endured the demanding commitment to the legal profession that they were told they would have to observe when they were admitted to practice. The time has now arrived for them to take their place among the leaders of our profession. They will now have to dispense the same advice that they received when they were admitted to practice to lawyers now being admitted.

“At last year’s admission of the newly appointed Senior Counsel, my learned friend Edward Luckhoo SC explained the meaning of ‘Inner Bar’ and pointed out its notional importance – notional because an ‘Inner Bar’ does not physically exist in many courtrooms – as well as the changes which have occurred in the conferring of Queen’s Counsel or Senior Counsel, including academics and solicitors. In Guyana we are all attorneys-at-law and we all qualify for consideration.

“Ever since Sir Francis Bacon was appointed the first Queen’s Counsel Extraordinary in 1597, superseding the Attorney General, the Solicitor General and King’s Sergeants, who automatically held appointments of King’s Counsel, the position was one of status and dignity. At that time, it granted the concession of appearing against the Crown without a special licence. In time Queen’s Counsel were prohibited from drafting pleadings without the assistance of a junior counsel, or to appear in court without a junior barrister and were required to wear a robe made of silk, hence the term ‘taking silk’ or the reference to a senior counsel simply as ‘silk.’

“As against these obligations, Queen’s Counsel were given priority in court and were able to command far higher fees. The record shows that Francis Winnington enjoyed a tenfold increase in income after becoming King’s Counsel in 1672. In England and around the world, including Guyana, that same situation prevails today, although I cannot say that I have experienced it.

“While over the years the rules that constrained Queen’s Counsel and Senior Counsel in Guyana and elsewhere have been relaxed, it remains an honour that is cherished among lawyers and is the only profession in the Commonwealth that is so honoured by the State. It is for this reason that the State’s role in the award of the honour has been treated with caution. This was the main criticism in England in the early 2000s when the institution was suspended as its future was considered. The Law Society, which represents solicitors, campaigned for its abolition during that period. Among the grounds was that it was based on State patronage. New methods of selection without State influence were implemented.

“In Guyana, there was a gap of 35 years, 15 years prior to 1985 and 20 years between 1996 and 2016, when no appointments of Senior Counsel were made as a direct result of State policy. To put it another way, it was only over the course of a 17-year period over the 52 years of Guyana’s life as an independent nation when awards of Senior Counsel are made. In both periods, outstanding lawyers of great learning were denied recognition, including those who were invited by the judiciary to apply. Let us hope that there will be a continuity of appointments as lawyers qualify, based solely on the recommendations of the judiciary and that the State’s role would be only nominal.

“The four newly appointed Senior Counsel bring distinctly unique experiences to the practice of law. Two were educated in England and two in the Caribbean. The nature of their practice varied and the experiences they acquired are different. The pool of Senior Counsel has therefore been enriched. This is all to the good of the legal profession and the litigants, accused and defendants that it serves and I welcome them to the Inner Bar.”

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