Protest at pledge sought from NI lawyers

 

A CATHOLIC barrister yesterday renewed his protest over links between lawyers in Northern Ireland and the British monarch as 13 junior barnsters became Queen's Counsels or QCs.

Last year Mr Philip Magee, a Catholic barrister from Belfast, took legal action which led to the dropping of the oath of allegiance to Queen Elizabeth after it was found to be unlawful.

As a result of his successful action, new QCs taking silk yesterday were the first in Northern Ireland not to be required to take such an oath of allegiance since the establishment of the local Bar over 70 years ago.

However, they still had to declare that they would "well and truly serve Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to the best of my skill and understanding".

The declaration is the same as applies in England and Wales, where the oath of allegiance was never a requirement to becoming a Queen's Counsel.

Mr Magee said he found it astonishing that, after decades of having an unlawful oath of allegiance, the Supreme Court authorities now felt it necessary to proffer a declaration which was offensive to many nationalist members of the Bar.

Mr Magee, who did not apply for appointment as a QC, added: "The Bar of Northern Ireland, as an independent profession, must now address the issue as to whether seniority among counsel should continue to be regulated by an honour conferred by the English crown, as this excludes those counsel who are not prepared to accept this so called honour.

The appointment of QCs is by warrant issued by the Northern Ireland Secretary, Sir Patrick Mayhew, himself a QC, acting as the queen's representative. He acts on the recommendation of the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Brian Hutton.

The new QCs, who were formally admitted at a ceremony in the High Court in Belfast, are James Gallagher, John Orr, Eugene Grant, Michael Long, Michael Stitt, Carl Simpson, Gordon Kerr, Billy McCrory, Ben Stephens, Brian Fee, Mark Horner, Mark Orr and Mrs Margaret Ann Dinsmore, who becomes only the third practising woman QC in Northern Ireland.