(CMR) Five Cayman-based attorneys have been appointed to the distinguished rank of “Silks” – the informal term for Queen’s Counsel. The legal documents formalizing the appointments of the new Queen’s Counsel were signed by HE the Governor Martyn Roper on 5 August 2021, on the recommendation of the Honourable Chief Justice the Hon. Anthony Smellie.
The formal ceremony admitting the five new QCs to the Inner Bar of the Grand Court of the Cayman Islands, to be presided over by Chief Justice the Hon. Anthony Smellie, sitting with other judges of the Grand Court, takes place on Friday, 3 September 2021, at 2:30 pm.
The new Silks include, on the public side, Solicitor General and Chief Officer, Portfolio of Legal Affairs, Ms. Reshma Sharma, and, from the private bar, Messrs. Alden McNee McLaughlin, Jr, MBE, former Premier; and Mac Webster Imrie, consultant, Maples, and Calder, along with Mmes. Rachael Reynolds, global senior partner, Ogier, and Colette Ann Wilkins, partner, Walkers.
To give perspective to the seniority that is the hallmark of these appointments, Chief Justice Smellie reminded that the term “taking silk” dates to 17th Century England when Queen’s Counsel first started wearing silk robes in court as a mark of distinction. The senior practitioners were instructed by junior lawyers (solicitors), typically in more difficult or complex cases, with work sometimes undertaken on a pro bono publico basis, which continues today in England.
Although guidelines for the appointment of QCs in Overseas Territories such as Cayman do not today require this distinction in roles between barristers and solicitors, the same practices often appertain, the Chief Justice said. This includes the still-prevailing expectation that Queen’s Counsel endeavor to provide a percentage of legal work free of cost in the cases of clients who need assistance in accessing legal services but cannot afford to pay.
Chief Justice Smellie said the appointments of these senior, long-serving, respected, and distinguished members of the legal fraternity come at the end of an intensive process of consultation and vetting, which commenced in January 2021, by himself and his colleagues, and the UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.
These latest appointments, coming more than four years since the last inductions in February 2017, were made first and foremost, Chief Justice Smellie said, having regard to the needs of the jurisdiction, as prior holders re-locate, retire, or channel their service into the local judiciary.
In closely monitoring these movements, the Chief Justice said he and his colleagues “have been able to maintain a stable pool of QCs relative to the size of the profession and local population.” Achieving this balance, the Chief Justice said, was in the public’s interest as it ensured that “homegrown” talent is recognized and made available to meet local needs.
“QCs are public officers in the sense that they are available to serve wherever there is a need for the special ability and seniority implied in their appointments,” the Chief Justice said, adding: “These appointments are a responsibility that my fellow judges and I take very seriously.”
The guidelines upon which candidates are evaluated were first settled many decades ago by way of Royal Instructions. They were further agreed, in 1986, between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the then-Lord Chancellor’s Department. After Chief Justice Smellie’s appointment to head the judiciary in 1998, he initiated the local procedures that, for the first time, included appointments from the private Bar.
That introduction of local procedures for the induction of private attorneys paved the way for the first private attorney, now Justice Andrew Jones (retired), to be appointed QC in 2002.
Until then, in the Cayman Islands, only attorneys in the public service were appointed QCs. The very first Cayman Islands appointment, a distinction earned by the late Michael Bradley, then Attorney General of the Cayman Islands and later Governor of the British Virgin Islands, took place in 1982.
The next local appointment, made in 1987, was that of the late Sir Richard Ground, a former Attorney General of the Cayman Islands and later Judge of the Turks and Caicos and Chief Justice of Bermuda. Next was Chief Justice Smellie himself, in 1991, when he served as Solicitor General and Acting Attorney General.
In less than two decades, that picture has changed dramatically. Since 2002, there have been 23 appointments (including this latest group of five appointees), bringing the total appointments for the Cayman Islands to 27 since 1982.
The Chief Justice said that the guidelines governing local appointments closely mirror those followed in the UK. In fact, he said, the local guidelines are more stringent in one important respect—eligibility based on years of experience. UK candidates must have a minimum of 10 years' experience since admission to the bar. This compares to 15 years in Overseas Territories such as the Cayman Islands.
The rules also specify that at any given time, the number of new appointees should be restricted to approximately 10% of the members of the practicing Bar. The Chief Justice confirmed that he and his colleagues are committed to the ongoing review of the needs of the jurisdiction for the making of further timely recommendations for appointment.