Inns of Court

Inns of Court

The Inns of Court in London are the professional associations to one of which every barrister in England and Wales (and those judges who were formerly barristers) must belong. They have supervisory and disciplinary functions over their members. The Inns also provide libraries, dining facilities and professional accommodation. Each also has a church or chapel attached to it and is a self-contained precinct where barristers traditionally train and practise, although growth in the legal profession, together with a desire to practise from more modern accommodation caused many barristers' chambers to move outside the precincts of the Inns of Court in the late 20th century.

History and composition

Several centuries ago the Inns of Court were any of a sizable number of buildings or precincts where barristers traditionally lodged, trained and carried on their profession.

Over the centuries the number of active Inns of Court was reduced to the present four:

* Gray's Inn
* Lincoln's Inn
* The Inner Temple
* The Middle Temple

The Inns are near the western boundary of the City of London; nearby are the Royal Courts of Justice (opened in 1882; previously sat in Westminster Hall), which were placed in the legal quarter of London for convenience. Each inn is a substantial complex with a great hall, chapel, libraries, sets of chambers for many hundreds of barristers, and gardens, and covers several acres. The layout is similar to that of an "Oxbridge" college. The "chambers" were originally used as residences as well as business premises by many of the barristers, but today, with a small number of exceptions, they serve as offices only.

Membership and governance

Each of the four Inns of Court has three ordinary grades of membership: students, barristers, and Masters of the Bench or "benchers". The benchers constitute the governing body for each Inn and appoint new members from among existing barrister members. As a rule, any barrister member of the Inn is eligible for appointment. In reality, appointments are made to those who become judges or who carry out work on behalf of the Inn, be it on committees or through the training of students and other junior members.

Barristers may choose which Inn to join, but can only apply to one Inn for scholarships. Scholarship amounts are similar across the Inns. Barristers may choose because they know someone already in an Inn, or there's a student association for one Inn at their university. It makes no real difference in the long run which Inn a barrister joins.

The senior bencher of each Inn is the Treasurer, a position which is held for one year only. Each Inn also has a Royal Bencher (although since the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales and HM Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, the Middle Temple has been without one). They also appoint Additional Benchers, from academics, the world of politics and overseas judiciary.

The Inns of Court no longer provide all the education and training needed by prospective barristers, who must pass the Bar Vocational Course, but do provide supplementary education during the 'Bar School' year, pupillage and the early years of practice. All prospective Bar School students must be a member of one of the four Inns. The Inns still retain the sole right to call qualified students to the bar, a right currently found in section 27(3) of the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990.


The four inns are close to one another in central London. Middle Temple and Inner Temple are liberties of the City of London, which means they are within the historic boundaries of the City but are not subject to its jurisdiction. They operate as their own local authorities. The closest tube station is Temple.

Gray's Inn and Lincoln's Inn are in the London Borough of Camden (formerly in the Borough of Holborn) near the boundary with the City of London. They do not have the status of local authority. The nearest tube station is Chancery Lane.

Other Inns

Another important inn, Serjeants' Inn, was dissolved in 1877 and its assets were, controversially, distributed amongst the existing members. The membership of the Inn had consisted of a small class of senior barristers called Serjeants-at-law, who were selected from the members of the other four inns and had exclusive rights of audience in certain Courts. Their pre-eminence was affected by the new rank of Queen's Counsel, which was granted to barristers who were not serjeants. The serjeant's privileges were withdrawn by the government in the 19th century, no more serjeants were appointed, and they eventually died out. The area now known as Serjeants' Inn, one of two sites formerly occupied by the Serjeants, the other being in Chancery Lane, was purchased by the Inner Temple in 2002.

It was formerly the custom for senior judges to join Serjeants' Inn, thereby leaving the Inn in which they had practised as barristers. This meant that the Masters of the Bench of the four barristers' Inns of Court were mostly themselves barristers. Since there is now no Serjeants' Inn, judges remain in the Inns which they joined as students and belonged to as barristers. This has had the effect of making the majority of the Masters of the Bench senior judges, either because they become benchers when appointed as judges, or because they become judges after being appointed as benchers.

There were also minor Inns of Chancery, including Clement's Inn, Clifford's Inn and Lyon's Inn (attached to the Inner Temple); Strand Inn and New Inn (attached to the Middle Temple); Furnival's Inn and Thavie's Inn (attached to Lincoln's Inn); and Staple Inn and Barnard's Inn (attached to Gray's Inn). There were and are only four Inns of Court, which have a special and historic status including, for example, the authority to call members to the Bar and therefore confer on them rights of audience in the High Court. The other Inns (none of which continues to function), including the Inns of Chancery, were not Inns of Court.

There is also an Inn of Court of Northern Ireland. In the Republic of Ireland, there is only one Inn of Court, the Honorable Society of King's Inns.

In the United States

From the late 1970s, U.S. Chief Justice Warren Burger led a movement to create Inns of Court in the United States. Although they are loosely modeled after the traditional English Inns, American Inns of Court do not include any real property. They are groups of judges, practicing attorneys, law professors and students who meet regularly to discuss and debate issues relating to legal ethics and professionalism. American Inn of Court meetings typically consist of a shared meal and a program presented by one of the Inn's pupillage teams. Chief Justice Burger and others established the American Inns of Court Foundation in 1985 to promote and charter Inns of Court across the United States.

The U.S. does not require attorneys to be a member of an Inn of Court, and many of the equivalent functions are performed by Bar Associations.

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  • Inns of Court — n. [see INN, 3] 1. the four legal societies in London having the exclusive right to admit persons to practice at the bar 2. the four groups of buildings ( Gray s Inn, Lincoln s Inn, Inner Temple, and Middle Temple) belonging to these societies …   English World dictionary

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