Full Court sitting to receive announcements of appointment of Senior Counsel for the State of New South Wales

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Address by Justice Rares 12 October 2023

1 All of the available Sydney judges of the Court have sat in this ceremony today to take your bows and to acknowledge the achievement that each of you has attained in being appointed as senior counsel last Friday. The Chief Justice has asked me to pass on her congratulations and apologies for not being able to be present. The first senior counsel, of whom I was the most junior, were appointed 30 years ago, after the New South Wales government had announced the previous year that it would no longer make appointments of Queen’s Counsel.

2 Your appointments constitute a public recognition of the high professional regard in which you, the work you have done as junior counsel, together with your personal qualities, are held, by not just your peers but also those like the judges who give feedback on applicants for silk. You, your family and close friends can feel proud of the distinction reflected in what you have just attained through years of hard work and personal sacrifices.

3 In May next year we will mark the bicentenaries of the Supreme Courts of Tasmania and New South Wales, and in two years after that this Court’s half century. Your appointments have a place in our country’s proud history of upholding and living under the rule of law. Very few countries in the world can boast of any court that has existed continuously for two centuries and acted as the third branch of government independent of the executive and parliamentary branches. Tradition and history are part of the institution into which you have just been admitted. This includes your announcement of your respective ranks and precedence.

4 Sir William Blackstone, in his Commentaries on the Laws of England gave the following description of the new status you enjoy – although I am not sure that it works in the same way today. He wrote 250 years ago:[1]

A custom has of late years prevailed of granting letters patent of precedence to such barristers, as the crown thinks proper to honour with that mark of distinction: whereby they are intitled to such rank and pre-audience as are assigned in their respective patents; sometimes next after the king's attorney general, but usually next after his majesty’s counsel then being.

These (as well as the queen's attorney and solicitor general) rank promiscuously with the king's counsel, and together with them fit within the bar of the respective courts: but receive no salaries, and are not sworn; and therefore are at liberty to be retained in causes against the crown.

And all other serjeants and barristers indiscriminately (except in the court of common pleas where only serjeants are admitted) may take upon them the protection and defence of any suitors, whether plaintiff or defendant; who are therefore called their clients, like the dependants upon the ancient Roman orators.

5 You can feel relieved, perhaps, that the former titles of two of the most experienced barristers with assigned seating in the Court of Exchequer – the “postman” and the “tubman” – have not crept into the 21st Century.

6 You now take your place as leaders of the bar in two senses – obviously you will now lead your juniors but you also will play a role in setting the standards for, and being examples of, honesty, integrity, professional norms and excellence. The public and the legal profession will look to how you conduct yourselves as advocates and members of our community. It is not only a large responsibility, but an honour and a privilege to appear for a client, presenting his, her or its case fearlessly, however popular or unpopular the client or the case may be, while adhering to the standards that I have identified.

7 The judges of the Court and I congratulate each of you on taking silk and look forward to your future assistance to us in the administration of justice in our country.

[1] 15th ed, Vol 3, 1809 at pages 27-28.

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