Monday, March 20, 2006

QCs, SCs, and republicanism

The Lawyers and Conveyancers Bill passed its third reading last week, and will shortly become law. When it does, the title of "Queen's Counsel" will pass from our legal lexicon, to be replaced with "Senior Counsel". Existing QCs will retain the title (if they want to), but it will gradually fade out as they retire or die of old age

This is entirely appropriate. After all, these lawyers don't work for the Queen, or the government - they work for themselves and their clients. While the title is currently awarded by the Governor-General on recommendation of the Attorney-General and Chief Justice, a key aim of the bill is to further formalise the appointment process so as to make it clear that the title is a mark of experience, seniority, and merit, rather than royal favour or (as at present) being a member of the legal "old boy's network". And it makes perfect sense to call these senior lawyers what they are - senior counsel - rather than sticking with the old title with its historical baggage redolent of privilege.

Predictably, the Monarchist League are not pleased, and are claiming that the move is a shift towards republicanism for which there is no popular mandate. They're right on the first part, but more by definition than by intent; while it is not its chief aim, this part of the bill does eradicate the monarchy from another small part of New Zealand life, and can therefore be said to be a step towards republicanism. However, I think they're completely wrong on the second, in that while there doesn't really seem to be an overwhelming public demand for the immediate severing of ties with the monarchy and the declaration of a republic, the public seem perfectly happy with the current project of gradual erosion, culminating in such a declaration in ten or twenty years time. This has been the programme of pretty much every government for the past 20 years (with perhaps the exception of Jenny Shipley, though I'm only saying that because I'm not sure where she stood on the matter) - and there's little reason to think that future governments will diverge from it. Oh, some may go a little slower and some a little faster, but the overall project of sleepwalking to a republic will continue. The process may speed up if the current monarch dies, or if a political party decides to make republicanism a key part of its platform and push for serious constitutional reform (hint to Peter Dunne), but I don't see it as ever really stopping or being reversed. The mere fact of our political independence and growing distance from Britain will drive it along regardless.

I should also point out that the monarchist's implication that MPs who voted for this clause (everyone bar the National Party) are disloyal and unpatriotic is about as crass and baseless as their previous allegations of sedition. And it's crap like that which makes me want to push for, say, the abolition of "God Save The Queen" as one of our national anthems, just to wind them up.

Update: Shipley was indeed a monarchist, so that means that its every government for the past twenty years bar one.


Here's the Republican Movement Media Release on this issue.

Posted by Lewis Holden : 3/20/2006 04:38:00 PM

And here's my comment on the issue.

BTW, Jenny Shipley was a monarchist.

Posted by Lewis Holden : 3/20/2006 05:01:00 PM

Or possibly here.

The claim that MPs who voted for this are disloyal or unpatriotic is akin to Don Brash's definition of "non-mainstream" as "women, Maori, gays, and anyone who doesn't vote for National". It's predicated on a simply outdated view of what it means to be a New Zealander and what "patriotism", "loyalty" or even citizenship mean - a view that belongs more in the 1920's with Bill Massey than in the 21st century.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/20/2006 05:03:00 PM

BTW, Jenny Shipley was a monarchist.

That doesn't surprise me in the least.

I'll do a correction.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/20/2006 05:06:00 PM