QCs, barristers and divorce cases
In the early nineteen-seventies, it was a rule of professional practice, but not of law, that where a QC was instructed, a junior barrister also had to be hired, normally for two-thirds of the QC’s fee. The client therefore had to pay three times for legal advice and representation: once for the solicitor, once for the QC and again for the junior.
The role of the junior was vague. He or she often just sat next to the QC, known as a leader, perhaps taking notes, asking the occasional question or looking up points of law.
In one case, the client was involved in a messy divorce. The custody of his children had been contested and was granted to his ex-wife as mother of the children. The client was determined to take the case to the Court of Appeal despite being advised that he had little chance of success. A QC was hired for £1000 a day, financed by the client’s father. The father also paid the costs of the solicitor and the junior. The case lasted two days in the Court of Appeal. The custody decision was confirmed on appeal, as seemed to be inevitable. The client was emotionally devastated. His father had to sell his house to pay the legal costs. He also had to pay the costs of the other side.
Before the Divorce Reform Act 1968 came into force, the undefended divorce case was an easy source of income for barristers. Where the divorce was not contested, and the facts were agreed, the contents of the divorce petition still had to be read out in court. The barrister simply had to take the client through the petition point by point, often bringing out the most harrowing details of cruelty or sexual perversion. For this technical exercise in public humiliation, the barrister normally picked up 25 guineas.