The legal profession has seen changes happen overnight after the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II with one major change being the Queen’s Counsel (QC) now becoming the King’s Counsel (KC).
This change in legal formalities also means that prosecutions will now be called in the name of His Majesty King Charles III.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II died on September 8th, 2022 after reigning for 70 years, making her the longest-recorded monarch in British history. As instantaneous shifts occurred in the Royal Family with the accession of His Majesty King Charles III, changes also occurred in the legal profession with The Queen’s Counsel now becoming the King’s Counsel.
King’s Counsels are highly established lawyers appointed by the monarch. A KC will take on cases that require a high level of experience and will be selected accordingly to their area of expertise.
Barristers’ chambers swiftly made the title change after it was advised by the Crown Office to take place with immediate effect. King’s Counsels will now use the shorthand title of KC on any official documentation and public forums.
The change from Queen’s Counsel to King’s Counsel means that criminal prosecutions will now fall under ‘R v Smith’ with the ‘R’ now representing the King, Rex, instead of what previously stood for the Queen, Regina.
A King’s Counsel saw their first case since 1950 at the Old Bailey on September 9th, the day following Her Majesty’s death.
Becoming King’s Counsel is referred to as ‘taking silk’ as members wear a silk gown to signify their position. Taking silk marks progression to the highest-ranking position for an established lawyer and is considered an honourable one. The title of KC is predominantly merit-based but does require at least ten years of experience.
Senior barristers, advocates, and solicitors can apply to become King’s Counsel but must meet rigorous requirements, with the process typically taking over a year.
In addition to the title changes for King’s Counsel, The Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court will now become the King’s Bench Division which forms the largest of the High Court Divisions. The King’s Bench Division oversees various disputes including negligence, libel, and personal injury claims. However, the division can also be called on to oversee more specialist cases.
Amid all the title changes, The Queen’s Building at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, which was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1968, will maintain its current name.
David Green, Academic Manager at The University of Law, said: “For some 70 years the term Queen’s Counsel or QC has been used with great pride for those taking silk in the legal profession. It will take a bit of time to get used to the new term KCs, as King’s Counsels will be known, but they will of course be just as revered.”