New silks include criminal defence veteran

| 08/02/2017 | 6 Comments
CNS Business

Benjamin Tonner QC

(CNS Business): The governor has announced six new Queen’s Counsels from Cayman’s legal profession, and for the first time, one of those new QCs, also known as ‘silks’, comes from the list of local criminal defence lawyers. With government attorneys and corporate offshore lawyers the usual recipients of the legal honour, Ben Tonner’s anointment as a QC bucks the trend, though he is a seasoned attorney who has worked for years in the less glamorous side of local law, working legal aid cases and doing a considerable amount of pro bono work.

In addition to Tonner, who is a partner with Samson & McGrath, other local attorneys who have been made QCs include Solicitor General Jacqueline Wilson and First Legislative Counsel Myrtle Brandt, a legislative draftsperson. From the private sector the new silks are Ross McDonough, a senior partner at Campbells, Sheridan Brooks, a leading family lawyer, and Hector Robinson, a partner with Mourant Ozannes.

Tonner, the first criminal attorney to receive the award, has appeared in many landmark criminal cases, and though he has been practicing commercial law in more recent years, he still works some tough defence cases and sits on the Human Rights Commission.

Chief Justice Anthony Smellie will be initiating a formal ceremony on Friday, 17 February, to admit the new QCs to the Inner Bar of the Grand Court of the Cayman Islands. He explained that the term “taking silk” dates back to the 17th Century in 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, a practice that continues today in England.

Officials said the appointments, which come four years since the last inductions, involved an extensive process of consultation and vetting by the chief justice and his colleagues, the governor and the UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The chief justice said they were needed in the jurisdiction after prior QCs re-located, retired or moved into the judiciary.

He said that maintaining a stable pool of QCs relative to the size of the profession and local population was in the public’s interest because it ensured that “home grown” talent was recognised 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,” Chief Justice Smellie said. “These appointments are a responsibility that my fellow judges and I take very seriously.”

Explaining how they are selected, he said senior, long-serving, respected and distinguished members of the legal fraternity are invited by him, following an internal consultative process, on the basis of formal guidelines for appointments in the British Overseas Territories. After an intensive period of further internal consultative meetings, recommendations are made to the governor, who then makes her recommendations to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

CJ Smellie said the guidelines governing local appointments closely mirror those followed in the UK, though if anything, the local guidelines are more stringent in one important respect: eligibility on the basis of years of experience. UK candidates must have a minimum of 10 years experience since they were called to the bar. This compares to 15 years in BOTs such as the Cayman Islands. The rules also specify that at any given time, the number of QCs should be restricted to approximately 10% of the members of the practising Bar.

See profiles of the six new QCs here

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Category: Court Business

Comments (6)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    One of the few examples of personal patronage remaining in the hands of the Chief Justice. Some of these appointments have caused great amusement throughout the legal profession. And on another point, colonial QCs aren't recognised as such in the UK courts.

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  2. Anonymous says:

    Congratulations Ben one of the few criminal lawyers who have my respect. Ben is someone who actually has his clients interests at heart and not chasing the $ or frustrating the legal systym

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  3. Anonymous says:

    So please explain how these individuals were selected and who picks the names that are considered and what the criteria are.... these appointments mean nothing if there isn't a transparent process... and if there is a process why does nobody know what it is?

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    • Anonymous says:

      It means they can raise their hourly rates, mainly.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Some of them were selected because they are high quality leaders in their field. Some of them.

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