Editorial: Queue-jump a bit rich

The Clark Government began paving the way for New Zealand becoming a republic by scrapping some symbols and baubles that link us with Britain and the monarchy. Titular knighthood and damehood honours made way for home-grown honours, appeals to the Privy Council in London were abolished in preference for our Supreme Court, and the title of Queen's Counsel in the legal profession was scrapped to make way for the bland Senior Counsel.

The Supreme Court seems to be permanently ensconced as our paramount court of appeal, but the Key Government restored titular honours in its first term in office and Parliament last month passed legislation to restore the rank of Queen's Counsel.

There had been no public clamour for the change and it doesn't much affect most of us, except when we go shopping for legal advice and find QCs cost more than other barristers. But lawyers will be chuffed. In 2009, when Attorney-General Christopher Finlayson announced the Government would restore Queen's Counsel, he called it a response "to concerns from the legal profession".

One factor was that the title Queen's Counsel was instantly recognised as the mark of a certain standard of legal advice, both among the New Zealand public and internationally. The Government also sought to protect "the essential independence of the inner bar".

Tighter eligibility and practice restrictions aim to enhance a QC's ability to accept instructions and provide frank, independent and objective legal advice without potential conflicts and pressures from working in partnerships or incorporated firms.

Provision was made, nevertheless, to appoint lawyers in firms as QCs to recognise exceptional legal practice, "consistent with the established practice of occasionally appointing exceptional lawyers in government and parliamentary counsel as Queen's Counsel, although they are not members of the independent bar".

And who was the first QC appointed under the new law? Why, Mr Finlayson (along with Solicitor-General Michael Heron).

Mr Finlayson may well be an exceptional lawyer. But it takes exceptional gall, too, to nudge out other candidates and be first in the queue.