inner barOne of the things that interested me after the passing of the Queen was the changeover in post nominals from QC to KC and some of the history.

Apparently, the office dates back to 1670 (reign of Charles II), when the Privy Council declared that  “King’s Counsel” took precedence over the sergeants at law, who were the lay (non-clerical) advocates who appeared in the courts from the time of King Edward I.

The Supreme Court of NSW was established in 1823 and it appears that John Bayley Darvall was the first QC appointed in 1853. There would be grand “letters patent” issued by the Executive Council which included a commission (very similar to the one read out when new judges are now appointed): “Greetings We, confiding in your knowledge, experience, prudence, ability, and integrity do, with the advice of the Executive Council of our Colony of New South Wales nominate, constitute and appoint you the said NAME to be one of Our Counsel learned in the law for Our said Colony …. to take rank precedence and preaudience in all Our Courts of Justice next after NAME-1.…”

This continued up until 3 December 1992, when the Fahey government announced that it would not be appointing anymore QC’s: “….The Government should not be asked to mark out particular lawyers for special treatment. That doesn’t happen with accountants or other professionals — why should it happen with barristers? I don’t believe the Government should be involved in such a process. It simply emphasises how out of date we are.”

This all pre-dates my admission as an Australian lawyer. However, one of the things I remember hearing from time to time were references to Peter Jacobson (then a Federal Court judge) as “the last QC”. It turns out he actually was. The (last) 1992 QC appointees were, in decreasing order of seniority (and excluding the Victorians)  Barr, Semmler, Basten, Slater, Steele, Hastings. Barry, Robb, Slattery, Catterns, Littlemore and Jacobson.

The first NSW SC was Michael John Sweeney. Other members of the class of ’93 included Messrs Flick, Hilton, Walker and Rares.

A couple of interesting articles if you want to dig further are in the personalia section of (1994) 68 ALJ 469 and also “The Great Silk Debate“.

Creative commons acknowledgment for the photograph.

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