Lord Chancellor delivers speech at King's Counsel ceremony

It's a great pleasure to welcome you all, as you make your declarations…

And confirm your new status as Kings Counsel, and Honorary King's Counsel.

This is the first time in over 70 years that a Lord Chancellor has presided over the appointment of 'King's Counsels', since the passing of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Of course, for all of you, I know this is the culmination of years of hard work, dedication, and sacrifice.

The late nights working on a brief,

The weekends lost to preparing a case in court,

The countless hours spent representing your clients will now,

I hope, at long last be worth it today.

You have made it to the pinnacle of your profession,

You will be recognised for that by your peers, by the Crown,

For what is an immense achievement.

You, your families, friends, and colleagues, should rightly be very proud.

Steeped in tradition going back to the 16th Century, the KC title has long been a hallmark of excellence.

It acknowledges your experience, expertise and eminence in your particular fields of law.

And so, today's ceremony cements your status as ambassadors for a legal system envied across the world.

And, as we celebrate your success in these historic surroundings…

Arguably the birthplace of both British justice and democracy… You are taking your own place personally in our country's distinguished legal history.

Of course, the KC quality mark is recognised not just here in the UK, but abroad too.

It holds up our legal professionals as the best in a global market.

And it underpins the worldwide appeal of our legal system… along with our common law precedents and world-renowned independent judiciary.

Our profession is, of course, also one of the reasons the UK has become the world's pre-eminent centre for dispute resolution.

Just to give you a flavour, in 2021, over 28,000 civil disputes were resolved through arbitration, mediation and adjudication in the UK, while more than 80 percent of the world's maritime arbitrations are handled here.

Businesses around the world turn to us time and time again to be their counsel and courtroom… because they know that a decision from a UK court carries a global kitemark… of impartiality, integrity and enforceability.

It isn't by luck that English and Welsh law is the choice for global business and international trade… used in some 40 percent of all global corporate arbitrations.

Nor is it a surprise that more than 200 foreign law firms, from over 40 jurisdictions have branches in the UK.

In fact, every single one of the world's top 40 law firms has an office right here in London.

A world-beating legal system goes hand-in-hand with our world-beating legal services…

One of this country's greatest exports - and at the heart of our future as a global, free-trading Britain.

Our legal services support the growth of global trade and investment across the whole country… contributing billions to our economy each year.

And it's why we're working hard to promote legal services abroad…

Targeting priority markets, like the Indo-Pacific and the United States…

And opening up market access for our legal professionals through free trade agreements… including current negotiations with India, the Gulf states, Canada, Mexico and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

All this serves as a reminder that our KCs don't just serve in English and Welsh courts.

They make a huge contribution to the international rule of law. Never has this been more true than today.

All the way back to Nuremberg, our legal professionals have played their part in bringing the worst war criminals to justice.

Take Hartley Shawcross KC - a formidable advocate who led the British prosecution at Nuremberg.

His opening and closing speeches widely held to be some of the finest of those historic, ground-breaking trials.

He observed that while some thought the Nazis on trial should have faced summary justice '…swept aside into oblivion, without elaborate and careful investigation into the part they have played…'

'Not so would the rule of law be raised and strengthened on the international as well as upon the municipal plane…

Not so would future generations realise that right is not always on the side of the big battalions…

Not so would the world be made aware that the waging of… war is not only a dangerous venture… but a criminal one.'

I think Shawcross's words resonate, when we consider the importance of the international rule of law… and the 'elaborate and careful' investigations currently underway into atrocities in Ukraine.

Nuremberg paved the way for the prosecution of war crimes and genocide in Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia and other wars and conflicts…

And our KCs have been instrumental in the development of international law in the decades since, alongside our allies.

We just need only look to The Hague to see the influence of some of the UK's best legal minds.

Sir Geoffrey Nice, Steven Kay, Andrew Cayley and Jo Korner are just some of the exceptional British barristers to have made their mark there and beyond.

And another Brit, Karim Khan KC, is currently Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court and responsible for the investigation into atrocities in Ukraine, among other vital work he's doing.

All of these appointments are a testament to the standard of our professionals and indeed their standing in the world.

I saw it myself - twenty years ago as a Foreign Office lawyer… I was posted to The Hague to help bring war criminals to justice at the Yugoslavian and Rwandan tribunals.

So, I know first-hand the impact the ICC and ad-hoc tribunals can have.

I remember in particular, Radovan Karadžić, the so called Butcher of Bosnia.

In 2004, as a fairly fresh faced lawyer, while serving in the Hague I negotiated a sentencing enforcement agreement between the UK and the UN.

Back then, no one thought we would get to use it…

But 17 years later, Karadžić was transferred to a UK jail cell under that agreement.

As you can imagine, I was proud to be a small part of that effort… a 30-year pursuit for justice.

Now as you will know, on 17th of March, the ICC indicted President Putin for the forcible removal of children from Ukraine. An appalling crime.

Today again, many doubters ask whether he will face the dock of a court.

We know, these cases are complex, and it will take patience.

To the doubters and the cynics I point to Karadžić, to Milošević, to Charles Taylor and others…

To know that justice is on our side, and history is on our side.

But justice doesn't happen by accident.

It requires deeds, not just words.

That is why, a week ago today in the UK I hosted a meeting of justice ministers from around the world…

Bringing together over 40 nations to agree support for the ICC, and its independent investigation into war crimes in Ukraine.

I'm pleased we could agree that package that will support the ICC's work in all its investigations.

But looking at the country and profession, the real success was bringing 42 other countries together to offer support…

Through the secondment of their national experts, the sharing of best practice to support the most vulnerable victims… and financial support to assist the ICC in its vital work.

This is global Britain as a force for good in the world - galvanising other nations to act.

In the same spirit, I have no doubt that many of you will go on to great things at home… and abroad… Building on the achievements of the remarkable KCs that have gone before you.

I know you will make us proud.

Today, we are also here to recognise eight candidates being appointed Honorary KCs, for outstanding contributions to the law outside of the courts.

Our first candidate, John Battle, is a driving force in the campaign for open justice and in particular filming court proceedings.

He is recognised for his extensive work with the media, Ministry of Justice, and with the senior judiciary.

Next, Professor Lionel Bently is a universally respected scholar, nominated for his role in influencing intellectual property law in this country and beyond.

Professor Richard Ekins has made a major contribution to public debate, and parliamentary deliberation, about the constitutional role of the courts…. Issues which are very close to my heart.

Then we have Professor Rosemary Hunter, a leading Family Justice scholar. Rosemary is recognised for her important work in the field of domestic abuse, which has helped to shape the law in this area.

Next, Dr Ann Olivarius, recognised for her vital role in the fields of women's rights, sexual harassment and sexual abuse.

She was absolutely instrumental in lobbying Parliament to pass laws against so-called 'cyber flashing', which I am proud we have now done.

We also have Professor Richard Susskind is recognised for his important work to promote technology and innovation in legal and court services across England and Wales.

Next, James Wakefield is nominated for his work to promote better access to the Barrister profession… encouraging retention of those from under-represented groups from across our society.

Then we have Professor Julian Vincent Roberts, a leading authority on sentencing theory, policy, and practice.

His work has made a major contribution to the analysis and development of sentencing worldwide.

Last but certainly not least, there is Sir Michael Wood - a prominent member of the International Law Commission, recognised for his invaluable contribution to the teaching and application of international law in the UK and beyond.

I have to say, there is one blot on his CV that I feel duty bound to point out.

Sir Michael recruited me to the Foreign Office legal advisers in 2000, and then deployed me to the Hague between 2003 to 6.

And was very much a mentor during that time, please don't hold it against him.

No one's perfect.

Of course, that's just a brief mention of our recipients' contribution to the law, which goes so much further.

In closing, let me say again what an honour it is to preside over this ceremony.

I hope you enjoy today's celebration with your family and friends.

It is truly well deserved.

Each and every one of you here today is a shining example - the brightest and best of British justice, an inspiration to the next generation of lawyers.

I've absolutely no doubt you will go on to even greater things in future…

Playing your part in upholding the reputation of the finest legal system in the world.

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