A SYDNEY barrister has risked ostracism and the ire of the legal hierarchy with his unprecedented public criticism of the system of appointing silks in NSW.Read the full letterGregory Curtin, a barrister of 20 years’ experience, says the Senior Counsel system is hypocritical and nepotistic, and the Bar Council has been ”asleep at the wheel” as selection committees favoured barristers from their own chambers over others.Last night he said the feedback from colleagues had been ”100 per cent positive”.But the Bar Association president, Anna Katzmann, said his claims were ”an unwarranted slur on every person who has served on those committees” and that their timing, as new silks prepare to receive their scrolls, was disappointing.In a letter to all NSW barristers obtained by the Justinian legal website , Mr Curtin called the system ”secretive, non-transparent, non-independent … open to invalid voting … and the acceptance of false accusations”.”The perception of capriciousness is widespread,” he said, and ”every sitting and retired judge … silk, junior barrister and solicitor to whom I have spoken (and there have been quite a few) has a poor opinion of the [system].”Mr Curtin stopped applying for silk this year after three failed attempts from 2006 to 2008 but said he was driven by a desire for reform, not sour grapes.He said he decided to go out on a limb after discovering evidence of bias in the process and seeing his recommendations for improving it ignored repeatedly.It was the first public criticism of the barristers’ pecking order that included statistical evidence, he said.In 2007 and 2008, the four-person selection committee awarded silk to barristers from their own chambers at five times the rate of applicants from elsewhere, according to his analysis of the civil law bar.They achieved a 71 per cent success rate in 2007 and a 50 per cent rate last year, although three out of four selectors changed.Mr Curtin also said applicants are denied natural justice because selectors do not have to inquire into negative comments about applicants made by a 650-strong consultation group.He said retired judges could be better selectors, or committee members could absent themselves from decisions on their chamber-mates.To stop white-anting, he wants applicants to be judged on their work over the past three years, as opposed to five, and only on the basis of comments from judges and barristers who have worked on the same cases.Ms Katzmann acknowledged the system was ”quite clearly” capable of improvement and said that Mr Curtin’s suggestions would be considered among others at an annual review in a fortnight’s time.But he had made a number of inaccurate assumptions in his letter, she said. He ignored that most applicants came from certain chambers and that selection committee members often came from very large and prestigious chambers that attract high-quality barristers.She had asked the consultation group this year to ignore hearsay or rumour and the system relied upon trust, Ms Katzmann said.An evolution of the former Queen’s Counsel system, the title of Senior Counsel is bestowed upon outstanding barristers and can command fees upwards of $7000 a day.This year, 15 out of 120 applicants won the honour, bringing the total number of NSW silks – so called because of the robes they wear – to 322.smh南京夜网.auRead the full letter
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