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Inns of Court

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Combined arms of the four Inns of Court. Clockwise from top left: Lincoln's Inn, Middle Temple, Gray's Inn, Inner Temple.

The Inns of Court in London are the professional associations for barristers in England and Wales. There are four Inns of Court: Gray's Inn, Lincoln's Inn, Inner Temple and Middle Temple.[1]

All barristers must belong to one of them.[2][3] 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. However, growth in the legal profession, together with a desire to practise from more modern accommodations and buildings with lower rents, caused many barristers' chambers to move outside the precincts of the Inns of Court in the late 20th century.


During the 12th and early 13th centuries, law was taught in the City of London, primarily by the clergy. But a papal bull in 1218 prohibited the clergy from practising in the secular courts (where the English common law system operated, as opposed to the Roman civil law functioning in the Church's ecclesiastical courts). As a result, law began to be practised and taught by laymen instead of by clerics. To protect their schools from competition, first Henry II (r. 1154–1189) and later Henry III (r. 1216–1272) issued proclamations prohibiting the teaching of the civil law within the City of London. The common-law lawyers worked in guilds of law, modelled on trade guilds, which in time became the Inns of Court.[4]

In the earliest centuries of their existence, beginning with the 14th century, the Inns were any of a sizeable number of buildings or precincts where lawyers traditionally lodged, trained and carried on their profession. Over the centuries, the four Inns of Court became where barristers were trained, while the more numerous Inns of Chancery – which were initially affiliated to the Inns of Court[5] – became associated with the training of solicitors in the Elizabethan era.[6]

The four Inns of Court are:

Lawyers have lived and worked in the Temple since 1320.[7] In 1337 the premises were divided into the Inner Temple, where the lawyers resided, and Middle Temple, which was also occupied by lawyers by 1346.[7] Lincoln's Inn, the largest, is able to trace its official records to 1422.[8] The records of Gray's Inn begin in 1569, but teaching is thought to have begun there in the late-fourteenth century.[9] In 1620 a meeting of senior judges decided that all four Inns would be equal in order of precedence.[7]

In the 16th century and earlier, students or apprentices learned their craft primarily by attending court sessions and by sharing both accommodation and education during the legal terms.[10] Prior to the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642, this training lasted at least seven years; subsequently, the Inns focused their residency requirements on dining together in the company of experienced barristers, to enable learning through contact and networking with experts.[10] In the mid-18th century the common law was first recognised as a subject for study in the universities, and by 1872 bar examinations became compulsory for entry into the profession of law.[8][10]

Importance in English Renaissance theatre[edit]

The Inns played an important role in the history of the English Renaissance theatre. Notable literary figures and playwrights who resided in the Inns of Court included John Donne (1572-1631), Francis Beaumont (1584-1616), John Marston (1576-1634), Thomas Lodge (c. 1558-1625), Thomas Campion (1567-1620), Abraham Fraunce (c. 1559-c. 1593), Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586), Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626), and George Gascoigne (c. 1535-1577).[11][12] Plays written and performed in the Inns of Court include Gorboduc, Gismund of Salerne (1561), and The Misfortunes of Arthur (1588).[12] An example of a famous masque put on by the Inns was James Shirley’s The Triumph of Peace (1634). Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors (c. 1594) and Twelfth Night (c. 1602) were also performed at the Inns, although written for commercial theatre.[11]

Military tradition[edit]

Since at least 1584, members of the Inns of Court have rallied to the defence of the realm during times of crisis. That tradition continues to the present, in that 10 Stone Buildings in Lincoln's Inn has been the permanent home of the Inns of Court & City Yeomanry since the building was freed up by the abolition of the Clerks of Chancery in 1842.

Membership and governance[edit]

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 practice, appointments are made of senior members of the Bar, usually KCs, or High Court judges or those who carry out work on behalf of the Inn, be it on committees or through the training of students and other junior members.[13]

The senior bencher of each Inn is the Treasurer, a position which is held for one year only. Each Inn usually also has at least one royal bencher. They may also appoint honorary 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 Professional Training 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, and must attend ten (formerly twelve)[a][14] 'qualifying sessions' before being eligible to qualify as a barrister. Qualifying sessions traditionally comprise formal dinners followed by law-related talks, but increasingly the inns offer training weekends that may count for several sessions' worth of attendance. The Inns still retain the sole right to call qualified students to the bar,[2][b] which is associated with a graduation ceremony ('Call Day').[10][15]

Prospective students may choose which Inn to apply to for membership, but can only apply to one Inn for scholarships. It makes no long-term difference which Inn a barrister joins; an applicant might, for example, choose a particular inn because he or she knows someone already a member, or it has a student association at their university.[citation needed]

The inns' disciplinary functions are carried out by a joint Council of the Inns of Court, which administers the disciplinary tribunals.[16] Barristers are prosecuted by the Bar Standards Board.

Location and layout[edit]

The four inns are located near one another in central London, near the western boundary of the City of London. Nearby are the Royal Courts of Justice, which were moved for convenience from Westminster Hall to the legal quarter of London in 1882.

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. These two Inns neighbour each other and occupy the core of the Temple area. 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 a local authority. The nearest Tube station is Chancery Lane.

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 they serve as offices with only a small number of apartments.[17]

Historically related Inns[edit]

Serjeants' Inn[edit]

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 King'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.

Inns of Chancery[edit]

There were also several Inns of Chancery. These are not Inns of Court but are associated to them: 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).

Irish Inns of Court[edit]

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.

American Inns of Court[edit]

From the late 1970s, U.S. Chief Justice Warren Burger led a movement to create Inns of Court in the United States, loosely modelled after the traditional English Inns. In 1985, he and others established the American Inns of Court Foundation to promote and formally charter local Inns of Court across the United States. Each local Inn is devoted to promoting professionalism, civility, ethics, and legal skills amongst the American bench and bar, in a collegial setting, through continuing education and mentoring.[18] At present, each major American city has more than one Inn of Court; for example, one Inn may be affiliated with a local law school, and another may be associated with a specific field of legal practice. American Inns of Court do not possess any real property. They are groups of judges, practising attorneys, law professors and students who meet regularly (usually monthly) to discuss and debate issues relating to legal ethics and professionalism. American Inn of Court meetings typically consist of a shared meal and a programme presented by one of the Inn's pupillage teams.

The U.S. does not require attorneys to be members of an Inn of Court, and many of the equivalent functions are performed by state bar associations. Some states require attorneys to belong to the official bar association, e.g., the State Bar of Michigan, while other states, such as Illinois, do not make membership of an official bar association a compulsory condition of licensure. Neither voluntary professional associations (including the American Inns of Court) nor mandatory bar associations typically have any role in training or licensing of law students that would be comparable to that function of the four English Inns of Court in selection and training of new barristers.

While the American Inns of Court share a collegial relationship with the English Inns, there is no formal or legal relationship.[19][20] A Declaration of Friendship was signed by the English and American Inns of Court, establishing visitation procedures under which American Inn members can acquire a letter of introduction that will officially introduce them to the Inns in England and Ireland, with reciprocal procedures available for English and Irish barristers.[20][21] An annual six-week exchange program, known as the Pegasus Scholarships, was created to provide for young English barristers to travel to the United States, and young American Inn of Court members to travel to London, to learn about the legal system of the other jurisdiction.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Webster, James C. (1911). "Inns of Court" . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 14 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 584.
  2. ^ a b "Legal Services Act of 2007, Interpretation: Section 207". Legislation.gov.uk. UK: The National Archives. 2007 Chapter 29, Part 9. Archived from the original on 19 April 2018.
  3. ^ Roberts, Chris (2004). Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind the Rhyme. Granta Books. p. 196. ISBN 978-1-86207-765-2.
  4. ^ Bellot, Hugh H.L. (1902). The Inner and Middle Temple: Legal, Literary and Historical Associations. London: Methuen & Co., pp. 32, 36
  5. ^ Webster, James C. (1911). "Inns of Court" . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 14 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 584. By the time of Sir Matthew Hale (1629) the custom for law students to be first entered to an Inn of Chancery before being admitted to an Inn of Court had become obsolete, and thenceforth the Inns of Chancery have been abandoned to the attorneys.
  6. ^ Winston, Jessica (2016). "'Minerva's Men': The Inns of Court in the 1560s". Lawyers at Play: Literature, Law, and Politics at the Early Modern Inns of Court, 1558-1581. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 48. ISBN 9780198769422. Retrieved 21 April 2023. The Inns of Chancery trained clerks of chancery and also provided initial training for men wishing to enter into one of the inns of Court. Later in the period, as the legal profession began to split into two branches, the Inns of Chancery became associated with training of the 'lower branch' solicitors.
  7. ^ a b c Bellot, Hugh H.L. (1902). The Inner and Middle Temple: Legal, Literary and Historical Associations. London: Methuen & Co. pp. 22, 24–25, 268–269.
  8. ^ a b "History of the Inn: Origins". The Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn.
  9. ^ "History". Gray's Inn. 6 June 2014.
  10. ^ a b c d "Education and Training". The Honourable Society of the Middle Temple. Archived from the original on 18 October 2017. Retrieved 23 January 2020.
  11. ^ a b Astington, John H. (2010). Actors and Acting in Shakespeare's Time: The Art of Stage Playing (1st ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press. pp. 69–71. ISBN 9780521140775.
  12. ^ a b Cunningham, Karen J. (2007). "'So Many Books, So Many Rolls of Ancient Time': The Inns of Court and Gorboduc". In Kezar, Dennis (ed.). Solon and Thespis: Law and Theater in the English Renaissance. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press. p. 200.
  13. ^ Webster, James C. (1911). "Inns of Court" . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 14 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 584.
  14. ^ "Education and Qualification Rules" at the Middle Temple website. (Retrieved 9 October 2020.)
  15. ^ "Call to the Bar". The Honourable Society of the Inner Temple. Archived from the original on 13 March 2012. Call to the Bar is the graduation ceremony{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  16. ^ "COIC Group Final Report". Middle Temple. Retrieved 27 December 2014.
  17. ^ "The Inns of Court compared - Chambers Student Guide".
  18. ^ "Message from our President". American Inns of Court. 2014. Archived from the original on 30 August 2013.
  19. ^ Murphy, H.H. Judge Peter (March–April 2014). "Inns Old and New: A Historic Yet Thoroughly Modern Connection". The Bencher. Archived from the original on 16 April 2014.
  20. ^ a b "Frequently Asked Questions". American Inns of Court. 2014. Archived from the original on 3 November 2013.
  21. ^ "English and Irish Inn Visits". American Inns of Court. 2014. Archived from the original on 3 November 2013.
  22. ^ "Pegasus Scholarships". American Inns of Court. 2014. Archived from the original on 3 November 2013.


  1. ^ The change takes effect for students being called to the bar on or after 1 July 2021.
  2. ^ The U.S. equivalent would be graduation from law school, service of a one-year internship, and admission to the bar of a state's court of last resort.[citation needed]

External links[edit]