Queen’s Counsel, Barristers, Solicitors and Door Tenants

This article examines the significance of barristers, Queen’s Counsel, solicitors and door tenants.
Queen’s Counsel, Barristers, Solicitors and Door Tenants
Ramakrishnan Viraraghavan

Queen’s Counsel, barristers and door tenants are a flavour of the season due to Senior Advocate Harish Salve's sterling achievement as the only advocate practising in India to be appointed Queen’s Counsel in recent times and by a few advocates who have become door tenants in barristers’ chambers in London.

This article examines the significance of barristers, Queen’s Counsel, solicitors and door tenants.

Barristers are lawyers who have been called to the Bar by one of the four Inns of Court in England and Wales - the Inner Temple, the Middle Temple, Lincoln’s Inn and Gray’s Inn. Barristers traditionally had exclusive rights of audience before superior courts in England and Wales. They could not be instructed by a client, but had to be instructed by solicitors.

Being called to the Bar and becoming a barrister does not automatically entitle rights of audience before the courts. Barrister-at-Law is only an academic degree conferred by the Inns of Court. Entitlement to rights of audience before the courts in England and Wales requires successful completion of one year’s pupillage in barristers’ chambers. Landing a pupillage is not easy. Only about 40% of barristers become pupils. Barristers who cannot complete pupillage are only entitled to add ‘Barrister-at-Law (non-practising)’ after the names. They cannot practice law in English courts. Rights of audience come only after completion of pupillage.

Queen’s Counsel are barristers appointed by the Queen to be her counsel learned in the law. They are the equivalent of senior advocates in India. While Queen’s Counsel are appointed her Majesty’s counsel, senior advocates are designated by the High Courts or the Supreme Court. Queen’s Counsel comprise about 10% of barristers in England and Wales and represent a larger percentage compared with senior advocates, who are about 2% of advocates in India. The competition to be appointed Queen’s Counsel, through interviews and documentation supporting skilled advocacy, is as difficult as it is expensive.

Solicitors are lawyers who traditionally had rights of audience in lower courts. These were not exclusive rights but shared with the barristers. However, solicitors, unlike barristers, could be instructed directly by clients.

These traditional distinctions are slowly, but not completely disappearing. Solicitors now have rights of audience before superior courts after becoming solicitor advocates through a rigorous process of training and examination. Barristers are entitled to be instructed directly by clients without involving a solicitor after direct access authorisation by Bar Standards Board. Queen’s Counsel can appear in courts without a junior, directly instructed by the client. However, few solicitors appear in superior courts such as the High Court, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. Similarly, few barristers accept instructions directly from the client.

While solicitors generally practice in firms, barristers practice as self-employed professionals from chambers. Barristers’ chambers consists of a set of practising barristers sharing rooms and administrative expenses. A barrister in chambers is called a tenant. Practising barristers are entitled to have their names written on the door of the chambers. Some barristers do not practice in chambers and have their offices elsewhere, often abroad. They do not have rooms in chambers, but their names appear on the door of the chambers. These barristers are called door tenants to differentiate them from barristers who hold rooms in chambers. The latter are called full tenants.

Qualification either as a barrister or solicitor is essential for practice of English Law in England and Wales. However, this is required only for practice of English Law. Advocates practising Indian law in England and Wales do not require additional qualifications beyond those acquired in India. Commercial ties between India and the UK and international commercial arbitrations seated in England involving Indian entities have increased in recent years. This has encouraged English barristers to associate with Indian advocates. As a result, a few advocates from India have become door tenants in barristers’ chambers in London. However, these advocates cannot practice English Law. They can only advise on Indian law.

The author is a designated Senior Advocate of the Madras High Court and is among a handful of Senior Advocates having rights of audience in England and Wales. He was called to the Bar by Inner Temple. He is a door tenant in 33 Bedford Row, a leading set of barristers chambers specialising in civil, commercial, criminal, family and immigration law.

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