The Inns of Court

Publishes by The Daily Star on May 12, 2007 (Link Over)

Barrister M. Omar Bin Harun Khan

Lincoln’s Inn and the Gray’s Inn as well as the Inner Temple and Middle Temple, are the four Inns of Courts. These Inns were established at the very heart of London city primarily to offer accommodation to legal practitioners and their students and facilities for education and dining. They are ancient unincorporated bodies of lawyers which for five centuries and more have had the power to call to the Bar those of their members who have duly qualified for the rank or degree of Barrister-at-Law. With the power to call, however, goes a power to disbar or otherwise punish for misconduct, though this power is exercised rather infrequently. The Inns of Court, which taught English Common Law, developed the three levels of membership: Masters of the Bench, who are elected from amongst the eminent members of the profession; Barristers, who are qualified to practise on Call to the Bar; and Bar Student-members.

None of the Inns of Court has a proven year of foundation. However, all the Inns offer some assumed year of establishment depending on the oldest records available to them. There are, however, contradictions amongst the Inns with regard to the year of establishment of the other Inns. As per the information provided by Lincoln’s Inn it was established in 1422, Middle Temple in 1501, Inner Temple in 1505 and Gray’s Inn in 1569.

During the sixteenth century the four Inns of Court had greatly prospered. Not only were the Judges closely connected with the Inns, but the prosperity of the Inns had attracted the support of the statesmen of the day. As the sixteenth century advanced, prosperity attracted a broader culture to the Inns. Good manners, courtly behaviour, singing and dancing came to the fore. Perhaps the Inns were too successful in these pursuits, because they soon became fashionable places for noblemen and country gentlemen to send their sons. Many members had no intention of becoming barristers, but still sought the membership of the Inns to reflect their pride, prestige and dignity.

For the next hundred years or more, qualification for Call to the Bar depended only on eating dinners at the Inns and on the recommendation of a Judge or a Bencher. Those days are gone by but even after hundreds of years, the fallacy remains that the Barristers qualify themselves as Barristers only by dining at the Inns! By the 1840s the regulations had changed little from the 1740s except that taking the Sacrament according to the rites of the Church of England had ceased to be a condition for Call. By 1846 it was being urged in the legal profession as well as in the Parliament that students ought to receive a comprehensive legal education and that there should be uniformity of practice of Call to the Bar.

In 1852 the Council of Legal Education was established and each of the Inns undertook not only to pay expenses but also to lend two classrooms. Twenty years later examination for Call to the Bar was introduced. The Council was housed in Lincoln’s Inn but following the World War II moved into the accommodation in Gray’s Inn Place and later expanded further into Atkin Building as the Inns of Court School of Law (ICSL). Now there are other eight institutions along with ICSL that offer Bar Vocational Course (BVC). But, ICSL remains as the dream institution for the students willing to become barristers. This is not only because of its historical significance but also because of its high quality of legal education. I, myself recall my days at ICSL as ‘memorable and wonderful’ ones of my life.

At present, to qualify as a Barrister a person needs to pass a comprehensive and competitive BVC at any of the nine institutions across the UK and also needs to be a member of any of the four Inns of Court and attend a specified number of qualified sessions at the respective Inns, which mostly include dinners and other training. The Inns remain the central part for socialisation and getting accustomed with the customs and courtesies to be followed by a Barrister, as the term ‘Barrister’ not only denotes a profession but also a life-style.

Although the education of students for the Bar has now passed to outside institutions from the Inns, the involvement of the Inns in education is as important as ever. In modern times, much of the process of education for Call to the Bar and of discipline has been carried out by joint bodies of the four Inns; but the four Inns — Lincoln’s Inn, Inner Temple, Middle Temple and Gray’s Inn, to put them in their customary order — remain distinct as friendly rivals, each with its own property, duties and functions.

All the Inns have rich libraries with huge collection of books and legal materials. The Inns continue to serve the profession with paper based legal texts along with the most modern on-line research facilities. These libraries also house some unique collection of illustrated manuscripts and historic documents. The members of the Inns use the Halls and Function Rooms of the Inns every day. During their terms there are dinners on certain nights and lunch almost everyday. The Inns have dedicated Education and Training Departments with responsibilities ranging from the recruitment of undergraduates, the allocation of scholarships and awards, the provision of training during the Bar Vocational Course in addition to advocacy training for trainee Barristers and continuing Professional Development courses for all levels of practitioners.

In modern days all the four Inns perform almost the same functions with subtle differences in their traditional practices/customs (e.g. dining customs etc). As already stated the precise histories of the Inns are not always very vivid and clear. Despite this as the British people are very traditional and world famous for maintaining records and history, the basic historical information remains intact. The following parts of my writing may help the readers to have a brief appreciation of each of the Inns of Court. The detailed history, information etc. can be found in their respective web-sites, which are well administered and updated on a regular basis.

The Hon’ble Society of Lincoln’s Inn
Lincoln’s Inn is the oldest of all Inns. Lincoln’s Inn probably takes its name from Henry de Lacy, third Earl of Lincoln. At present time, in the Inn there are chambers to live and work in, a hall to eat and drink in, a chapel to pray in and a fascinating library to consult books in. This Inn in undoubtedly the most popular amongst the barristers of the Indian Sub-continent, especially the Bangladeshi and Pakistani Barristers. The highest number of Bangladeshi barristers were called to the Bar from the Lincoln’s Inn. In recent years, however, the membership of Bangladeshis in the other Inns seemed to have been increased.

Middle Temple and Inner Temple
These two Inns were founded on the same historical basis and hence require discussion together. The Inns’ names derived from the Knights Templars who were in possession of the site we now call the Temple for some 150 years. On Christmas Day 1119 and at the instance of King Baldwin II of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem and of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, nine knights took monastic vows styling themselves as ‘The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Jesus Christ’. They were quartered in the remains of the Temple of Solomon. The purpose of the foundation was the protection of pilgrims from Western Europe on their way through the Levant to visit the holy places.

Once established, the Order grew quickly in its importance. Houses of the Order were founded in many European countries to recruit members for the knights. In England in the middle of the 12th century, the Military Order of the Knights Templar built a fine round church at Holborn by the river Thames on the model of the Church of the Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which became know as the Temple Church. Two centuries later, after the abolition of the Order in 1312, lawyers came to occupy the temple site and buildings. They formed themselves into two societies: the Inner Temple and the Middle Temple. However, the Outer Temple has never been formed as a separate lawyers’ society.

At present Inner Temple has over 8,000 qualified members with an increase in the membership each year. Some of these buildings date back to the 17th century. This Inn has recently attracted the world attention because of the world famous book of Mr. Dan Brown, ‘The Vinci Code’, where the story revolve around the Temple Church. The church is jointly administered and maintained by the Inner Temple and Middle Temple and enjoys the status of a “Royal Peculiar”. The Choir of the Temple Church is world-renowned and the Inns have in recent years commissioned works from celebrated composers. Middle Temple attracted Bangladeshis the least, though there is no specific reason behind it. This Inn offers similar facilities for its members by keeping intact its distinct custom and culture.

Gray’s Inn
The first habitation known to have been on or close to the site of the present Hall was the Manor House. The Manor House was the property of Sir Reginald de Grey, Chief Justice of Chester, Constable and Sheriff of Nottingham, who died in 1308. However, the records of Gray’s Inn did not commence until 1569.

Queen Elizabeth herself was once the Inn’s Patron Lady. Lord Burleigh, the Queen’s First Minister, Lord Howard of Effingham, the Admiral who defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588, and Sir Francis Walsingham, the Chief Secretary who founded the Queen’s secret service, were all members of Gray’s Inn. It was not only from the Benchers’ table that the Inn took its fame, the Inn was renowned for its “Shows” and there can be little doubt that William Shakespeare played in Gray’s Inn Hall, where his patron, Lord Southampton was a member. Between 1680 and 1687 there were three disastrous fires in Gray’s Inn, which had burnt a whole lot of valuable documents, manuscripts and records. Gray’s Inn has proved to be an attractive Inn for Bangladeshi barristers in recent years.

In the conclusion, I must express my sincere gratitude to Mr. James Dewaar of Lincoln’s Inn who allowed me to use their documents in writing this article and I also thank my friends of other three Inns who, too, have provided me with necessary information and documents.


The author is a practicing Barrister and a part-time lecturer in London College of Legal Studies (LCLS) and British School of Law (BSL).