The panel system means that whether junior counsel are acting for the government in relation to an inquiry into deaths in Iraq, a judicial review against a planning decision, a claim for defective construction of a motorway, an injunction against a newspaper, or indeed any other aspect of contentious and non-contentious legal work for which counsel are needed, then the counsel selected will be members of one of the Attorney General’s Civil Panels.
The work of panel counsel is extremely interesting. Exposure to the high quality legal work on the panels can in due course assist in The Treasury Solicitor’s Department dispels the myths surrounding appointment to the Attorney General’s Civil Panels Dispelling Panel Myths preparing applications for Silk and judicial appointment.
A competition in relation to the London panels is held each year and this year’s applications for the London A, B and C Panels has now been announced (see p 38). The next competition for regions outside London is likely to be in June 2010.
There are a number of myths surrounding panel counsel appointments. The Treasury Solicitor’s Department, which assists the Attorney General’s Office in the administration of the Attorney General’s Civil Panels, has provided the following “mythbusters” (see p 16).
Myth 1: Only counsel from certain chambers are appointed
This is not true. Appointment is on merit and is conducted by fair and open competition.
- As at 24 July 2009 there are 58 diff erent sets of London chambers with panel counsel.
- A Panel consists of 21 different sets of chambers, of which 5 sets have 5 or more panel members, and 6 sets have 1 panel member.
- B Panel consists of 35 different sets of chambers, of which 7 sets have 5 or more panel members, and 18 sets have 1 panel member.
- C Panel consists of 44 sets of chambers, of which 5 sets have 5 or more panel members, and 19 sets have 1 panel member.
- The Regional Panel consists of 48 diff erent sets of chambers, of which 6 sets have 5 or more panel members, and 26 sets have 1 panel member.
Myth 2: Only counsel from certain backgrounds are chosen
The Attorney General appoints the best candidates solely on merit, irrespective of ethnic origin, gender, marital or civil partnership status, sexual orientation, political affiliation, religion, disability, age, or the chambers at which they practise. Th e Attorney General has produced an Equality and Diversity Expectations Statement about how she expects chambers, whose members include existing or prospective panel counsel members, to act. Details can be found on the TSol website: www.tsol.gov.uk.
Myth 3: Only public law specialists are successful
There is a variety of work available, not just in public law, to ensure the panels can meet the needs of government. It is important therefore that the panels contain counsel with various specialisms and that counsel are also able to branch out into new areas of work if the need arises.
Myth 4: When you are appointed as panel counsel you can no longer act against government
This is not true. We fully encourage counsel to maintain both a public and private practice, this includes acting against government. It is benefi cial to government if counsel have had experience of acting against government. Panel membership is also not indefi nite; we would therefore want to ensure that should panel membership cease counsel still has a private practice to return to.
Myth 5: I can only get on the A or B Panel if I have already been on the C Panel
Appointment is based on merit and the best candidates are those who are ultimately successful. Each year we have found that we appoint some candidates who are not currently on the panels.
Myth 6: I am seven years’ Call so cannot apply for the C Panel
C Panel appointees will usually have between two and five years’ advocacy experience and B Panel appointees will usually have between five and ten years’ advocacy experience (counted from end of second six). However there is no longer any hard and fast rule and it is possible for someone with more advocacy experience to apply successfully. Of course one of the things that we are looking for in appointing to the C and B Panels is future potential for the A Panel. The Selection Board would look carefully at applications from someone with, say, 15 years’ advocacy experience applying for the C Panel.
Myth 7: My panel appointment is affected by maternity leave
Appointments to the panel are made for five years. If during this time counsel take maternity leave they can if they so choose apply to have their panel membership extended for a commensurate period of time. Extensions are also considered for any other reason that counsel may have been away from chambers for some time and have not undertaken advocacy. Counsel are therefore not disadvantaged when it comes to making future applications. Additional time on the panel allows counsel time to undertake further advocacy work that will strengthen their application to the A or B Panels.
Myth 8: A Panel counsel applying for re-appointment are given priority over B Panellists and others
Appointments to the panels are made for five years, after which time counsel are required to apply for the next panel up, or if they are existing A Panel counsel they are required to re-apply. When existing A Panel counsel re-apply they are not given priority, we operate a completely level playing field so all counsel (whether existing panel members or not) are all considered together.
Myth 9: I do not seem to be getting much government work, I just have to accept the position
Although appointment to any panel cannot be a guarantee that work will be available, the intention is that each advocate appointed should be given at least a minimum amount of work. The volume of work panel members receive is monitored together with their performance. If panel members want more work either because they feel they are being overlooked or because a trial has collapsed and they are unexpectedly free, then their clerks can contact the Treasury Solicitor’s Department.