Aidan O’Neill QC takes silk south of the border
Aidan O’Neill QC was the sole member of Faculty at Westminster Hall on Monday to take silk alongside 113 other barristers.
The Ampersand Advocates member, who has been a QC in Scotland since 1999, told The Herald it was important for him to have senior status in both jurisdictions.
“This is one of the conditions negotiated in the 1707 Acts of Union, which preserved Scots law and English law as distinct legal systems,” he said.
“When I started practising regularly before the courts in England and Wales, about five years ago or so, I became a junior counsel again.
“This felt a bit anomalous as I was regularly doing much the same kind of work - in public law, employment law, EU law and human rights - in England as I had been doing, and continued to do, in Scotland. So once I had become sufficiently well known to the judges in England and Wales through my court appearances there I thought I should try and regularise the position and formally apply for silk in England too.”
Mr O’Neill is also a member of Matrix Chambers in London and has been involved in major cases in both jurisdictions. He appeared in a challenge to assisted suicide laws in the Court of Session and for the Scottish Football Association in a case relating to Mike Ashley’s purchase of Rangers’ shares.
He said that given as time for oral submissions is limited in the lower courts, it is “great fun” for advocates to argue cases for extended periods at the Supreme Court.
He said: “I very much enjoy appearing in the Supreme Court.
“It is the ultimate test of your advocacy skills to be up on your feet to speak – usually for two hours or more – before a bench of five or seven - or sometimes even 11 - of the brightest legal minds in the country, all of whom are fully engaged in the case and are testing the argument from all sides.
“The Supreme Court justices never speak with one united view from the bench, so you have to be alive to the fact that in asking you a question they may really be testing the position which they think another justice on the bench is tending toward. It calls on you to use to the full all the skills you ever need for this job in terms of persuasiveness, rhetoric, intellectual rigour, active listening and engagement, and being quick on your feet.”