Victorian London - Legal System - Inns of Court - admission and rules

INNS OF COURT (THE), "the noblest nurseries of Humanity and Liberty in the kingdom,"* (*Ben Johnson dedicates his Every Man out of his Humour, "To the Noblest Nurseries of Humanity and Liberty in the Kingdom, the Inns of Court") are four in number - Inner Temple, Middle Temple, Lincoln's Inn, and Gray's Inn. The question of precedency has never been settled, nor is it of much consequence, for each Inn is an independent body; but their popular peculiarities have not been inaptly represented in the well-known lines:
    "Inner Temple rich,
    Middle Temple poor;
    Lincoln's Inn for gentlemen,
    And Gray's Inn for a whore."
They are called Inns of Court from being anciently held in the "Aula Regia," or Court of the King's Palace. Their government is vested in "Benchers," consisting of the most successful and distinguished members of the English Bar - a numerous body, "composed of above 3080 Barristers, exclusive of the twenty-eight Serjeants-at -Law."* (*Times, May 12th 1846). The number is still englarging. The increase from 1833 to 1844 was from 1130 to 2484.* (* Warren, p.56). Rules generally adopted by the four Societies. - Before any person can be admitted a member, he must furnish a statement in writing, describing his age, residence and condition in life, and comprising a certificate of his respectability and fitness, signed by himself and a bencher of the society, or two barristers. The Middle Temple requires the signatures of two barristers of that Inn, and of a bencher, but in each of the other three Inns, the signatures of barristers of any of the four Inns will suffice. At Lincoln's Inn no person can be admitted a student, or called to the bar, conveyancer, special pleader, or equity draftsman. ... As soon as a person is admitted a student he is allowed free access to the library of the Inn to which he belongs, and is also entitled to a seat in the Temple Church, or chapel of his Inn, paying only some trifling sum annually by way of preachers' dues. He is also entitled to have his name set down for chambers. The applicant, before he can enter into "commons," must sign a bond with sureties conditioned to pay the dues. A student, previous to keeping any of his terms, must deposit with the treasurer of the Soceity 100l., to be returned (without interest) on its depositor being called to the bar; or in the case of his death, to his personal representative. But this deposit is not required on the part of persons who shall produce a certificate of having kept two years' terms at the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, or Dublin, or of his being a member of the faculty of Advocates in Scotland. The Middle Temple includes the Universities of Durham and London. At the Inner Temple, the candidate for admission, who has not taken the degree of B.A., or passed an examination at the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge or London, is required to pass an examination by a barrister, appointed by the Bench for that purpose, in the Greek and Latin languages, and history or literature in general. No person in priest's or deacon's orders can be called to the bar. In the Inner Temple an attorney must have ceased to be on the rolls, and an articled clerk to be in articles, for three years, before he can be called to the bar. At Gray's Inn the period is only two years. Before a gentleman can be called to the bar, he is required by the regulations of all the Inns to be of three years standing, and to have kept "commons" for twelve terms by dining in the Hall at least three times in each term. In the Middle Temple a three years' standing, and twelve commons kept, suffice to entitle a gentleman to be called to the bar, provided he is above twenty-three years of age. No person can be called to the bar at any of the Inns of Court before he is at twenty-one years of age, and a standing of five years is understood to be required of every member before being called. The members of the several Universities, &c., may be called after three years' standing. Any person wishing to be called to the bar must make application to a Master of the Bench, to move that he be so called. The call is by an act of the benchers in council or parliament assembled, and the name and description of every candidate must be hung up in the Hall for a fortnight before. Applications for admission to be made to the treasurer of the Inn, at his office, and all necessary information will be instantly afforded. In Lincoln's Inn a person wishing to be called to the bar must read his exercises at the bar-table, and the barristers at that table have a power of rejection, subject to an appeal to the benchers. If not rejected by the bar-table, it is still necessary that he should be approved by the Bench. The reading of exercises is a mere form, but preserved for the purpose of compelling the personal appearance, before the bar-table, at dinner-time, of the candidate for admission. The entrance expenses of each Inn average about 35l., the great bulk of which is for stamps, ie. 25l. for admission, and 1l. 15s for a bond. At Gray's Inn the bond is only 1l. The stamp required for a call to the bar costs 50l. The additional charges amount to between 20l. and 30l. Every student may, if he choose, dine in the Hall every day during term. A bottle of wine is allowed to each mess of four. His commons' bill, if he dine the whole of each term, will be about 10l. or 12l. annually.

Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850