Roger Thomas QC

Roger Thomas, who was called to the Bar in 1979, had a specialist tax practice and was frequently instructed by top multinational companies and major accountancy firms both in the UK and, since achieving the QC ‘badge’ in 2014, increasingly from Commonwealth countries. He was particularly in demand for complex stamp duty cases. Gaining silk had meant that Roger’s practice had widened and become “more fun”, he said, which for him had been one of the most satisfying things about becoming a QC.

Roger was born in Singapore where his father had worked for the British Colonial Civil Service. The family had moved back to the UK in the 1960s and Roger had attended Portsmouth Grammar School before going on to gain a first degree in jurisprudence from Oxford University. He then took his Bachelor of Civil Law, becoming acquainted with and attracted to tax law, for its “intellectual challenge and the large amounts of case law”.

Having applied unsuccessfully for silk in 2005, the first year of the ‘new’ QC competition system, Roger left it until 2013 to apply again. He said that this time, he felt much better placed (in terms of a “run of cases” in the highest courts including the Court of Justice of the European union) and better prepared (in terms of being thoroughly familiar with the requirements of the process) so as to be able to convince the QC Selection Panel that he was ready for silk. He also had indications of support from his potential assessors, which added to the sense that “the time was ripe”. He did have to go further back than two years for a few of his cases, but that was because many of his cases settled.

For those contemplating applying for silk, Roger suggested that they fully acquaint themselves with the application form, the guidance for applicants and the reports which the Selection Panel produced on the previous year’s competition (published on the QCA website.) Roger said that you needed to “have respect for the application form and the questions it asked.” This meant you had to invest a good deal of time in completing the form (“a minimum of two weeks”) because it was long and demanding – necessarily so in Roger’s opinion in order that applicants were able to give a full account of themselves and their practices. Unlike the old ‘tap on the shoulder’ arrangements, the QC Selection Panel system required a sophisticated analysis of the cases in which the applicant had appeared as well as substantial evidence from the applicant and assessors. It was hugely better than the old system, he felt.

Roger said that one particularly tough challenge of the process was that it covered some aspects that fell outside certainly his and, he assumed, other applicants’ usual experience: In his case he had had to think hard about how, as an advocate who generally acted alone for clients, he had led a team (as part of the ‘working with others’ competency). For specialists in other fields, they might struggle to provide evidence for, say, diversity.

The diversity competency had not unduly troubled Roger as for him it was all about “actually doing things to help others have the same life-chances” that he himself had enjoyed. He said that you needed to show the Selection Panel not just that you understood diversity, but that you were pro-actively engaged with issues relating to diversity.

Roger said he found the interview both “interesting” and “terrifying”, but stressed that the interviewers went out of their way to put one at ease. It was a hard interview, but rightly so, as part of a rigorous process. He said that for both the application form and the interview, it was vital to stay focussed on the question asked, and avoid the temptation to “stray”.

So what was Roger’s overall experience of the process? “Extremely positive,” he said, without hesitation, although he added wryly that his view was perhaps coloured by having been successful! He did feel (as some other profiled QCs also did) that it would have been preferable for there to have been greater certainty as to the precise time and date the results would finally be available, as that had been rather nerve-shredding.

Finally, we discussed work-life balance. Roger said that this had not changed since he had become a QC. He continued to maintain a work pattern to mirror that of his wife (a state school teacher) so that the school holidays were kept free for them to enjoy together. Given that it appeared that Roger was inspired by an ex-colleague in chambers who had worked on well into his late 80s, this was probably a wise and healthy pattern to maintain!


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