The 2021 competition for the appointment of QCs marks 15 years since the process was first introduced in 2006. This is also the year that Sir Alex Allan steps down as Chair after five years in the role. Monisha Shah will serve as Chair from 2022.

The QC appointment process operates on a prescribed framework with a regular timetable – we open for applications in February, applications close within a day or two of the end of March and the Selection Panel submits its recommendations to the Lord Chancellor at the end of October. Where possible, the Ministry of Justice aims to announce the appointments arising from each year’s competition before Christmas.

There are no quotas for applications or appointment. We actively encourage and warmly welcome applicants from diverse communities and regions who practise the law of England and Wales. In judging excellence, the Selection Panel of legal and lay members is heavily dependent on the nine assessments we receive on each applicant from judges, practitioners and clients covering a range of cases and perspectives. The interview is only one part of a robust and rigorous process which seeks to make appointments based solely on merit. At the end of each competition and before the start of a new one, the Panel meet to reflect on the process just completed and seek to improve our understanding and process for the forthcoming year.

Ensuring that we are doing everything we can as a Panel to support diverse applications and applicants is a significant aspect of that continuous improvement. This has included, for example, training in interview techniques and unconscious bias for panel members, improvement of descriptions in our guidance to applicants and assessors and more guidance on competency-based interviews for applicants.

In the case of women applicants, we have in recent years emphasised that where features such as career breaks lead to a shortage of cases over the last three years, that will not be counted against an applicant. We have also made clear that in such circumstances we will be happy for applicants to include some cases concluded longer than three years ago.

This year we undertook training as a group to improve our understanding of people living with disabilities. We cannot apply a lower standard of excellence to applicants with a disability, even if any shortfall in their performance is attributable to the disability. However, we can and have made identifiable changes in our process and actions. For example, we will make reasonable adjustments where, as a result of a disability, an applicant can only list fewer than the usual number of cases, or fewer cases of a particular type. We will continue to make appropriate adjustments to the arrangements for interviews. This year, 17 applicants declared a disability, of whom eight were interviewed and six have been appointed.

We should comment briefly on the separate question of the Selection Panel’s approach to the diversity competency. The professional bodies, with the support of successive Lord Chancellors and senior judges have included Diversity as part of the competency framework for the appointment of QC. The diversity competency is not about the personal characteristics of an applicant. It can as readily be satisfied by a white male applicant as by a female applicant from a minority ethnic group.

The diversity competency requires a good general understanding of the main diversity issues facing the profession, as well as some evidence of proactivity on diversity matters. We are interested to know what applicants have done proactively either in their professional or personal lives to widen access and participation. Merely being a member of a committee in chambers or firms is unlikely to be enough. To succeed in this competency, applicants need to show how they have made a positive difference, either in their professional or personal lives, through actions aimed specifically at improving access and widening participation.

This competition, we received 274 applications and collected over 2,400 assessments. The Selection Panel has recommended 101 applicants for appointment as QC. In recent years there have been between 223 and 281 applications and between 93 and 119 appointments.

Of course, we recognise the disappointment felt each year by all those who are unsuccessful. However, the mark of QC is an internationally respected award for excellence in advocacy in England and Wales. There is a tremendous responsibility upon the Panel to ensure, as far as it is possible, that we are consistent in our process and careful in our judgement. Our surveys of assessors have consistently shown that assessors are broadly satisfied with the recommendations the Selection Panel makes.

This year the Selection Panel has recommended 45 women for appointment. Based on figures from the Bar Standards Board, our estimate for the proportion of women in the cohort from which most applicants are drawn – barristers in private practice of between 16 and 30 years’ call – is no higher than 40%. That means that this year, for the first year ever, the proportion of women appointed clearly exceeds their representation in the relevant cohort. After many years in which the proportion of women appointed fell short of their representation in the relevant cohort, it is pleasing that this time the opposite should be the case.

The position with applicants from a minority ethnic background is more mixed. Both the proportion of applications (14%) and of appointments (15%) are broadly in line with the proportion of those from a minority ethnic background in the relevant cohort. However, we are keenly aware that these overall figures disguise distinct differences between different groups. The QCA has not, up to now, routinely published the breakdown of applications and appointments by different ethnic minority backgrounds. This is because we have been concerned about the risks of drawing conclusions from small samples and also potentially drawing attention to identifiable applicants. This year, having taken legal advice on the matter, we have decided to publish the breakdown. We hope that these figures will be useful to the professional bodies and others in their efforts to overcome continued disadvantages faced by some underrepresented communities.

The Selection Panel does not at present collect information relevant to social mobility. It may well be that it is now time to do so. Over the next few months, we will be consulting the professional bodies and drawing on their experience in order to decide how best to introduce monitoring of socio-economic background.

We are committed to supporting diversity and inclusion across all of our processes. Having a better understanding of who is applying to us helps to improve our understanding and inform improvements to our frameworks. We cannot require the provision of information about personal characteristics as part of the application process, but we would strongly urge applicants to provide this information to us to help improve the quality of our work. The diversity information about individual applicants is never disclosed to members of the Selection Panel.

The Selection Panel’s approach is set out in full in each year’s guidance for applicants.

QCA staff are always happy to assist prospective applicants who are left with questions even after reading the guidance – though it is preferable to ask before the last week of March. Prospective applicants should email:

We congratulate all the successful applicants of this competition and look forward to receiving applications for 2022.