HC Deb 18 March 1862 vol 165 cc1828-30

, in rising to ask for leave to bring in a Bill for the better Government of the Inns of Court, said that at that late period of the night he would not occupy the time of the House by explaining at length the object of the measure, but would reserve his detailed statement until the second reading, which would be put off until the members of the Bar had returned from their circuits. He would, however, briefly state the evils of the present system under which the Inns of Court were governed. There were four Inns of Court—Lincoln's Inn, the Inner Temple, the Middle Temple, and Gray's Inn—and these were governed by committees composed of benchers, who were entirely self-elected. It was a custom to elect Queen's Counsel benchers; but it was not an invariable custom, the benchers having the most perfect freedom to elect whom they pleased. These benchers also conducted their proceedings in entire privacy, and gave no account of their administration to any members of the Inn. The property of the four Inns amounted to something like £50,000 a year, which arose principally from rents and the payments of Members. These Inns consisted of an intelligent and highly-educated body of men, and what he proposed was that they should have some share in the management of their property and affairs. That was in accordance with the principles of the constitution of the country, as well as with common sense and fairness. He proposed to respect existing interests, and not to displace the present benchers, but he would gradually introduce the elective principle into the constitution of the Bench. He proposed that the majority of the benchers should be elected by the Bar of each Inn, and that the remaining portion should be elected by the benchers themselves. The benchers had now the power of disbarring barristers, and of dealing with cases of misconduct on their part. In each Inn the benchers exercised that power independently and separately, but there was an appeal to the judges as visitors. There was, however, one great defect in regard to the powers of the present tribunal—that the benchers had no power to summon witnesses or to compel the production of documents, or to administer an oath; and on the second reading be should be prepared to show cases in which justice had probably not been done in consequence of that state of things. One cardinal point in the administration of justice in this country was publicity; but the benchers formed secret tribunals, although their decisions, both as regarded barristers and students for the Bar, were often attended by serious and grave results. One of his propositions was that the bench of each Inn of Court should elect three members, and that the twelve so elected should constitute a court of discipline to take cognizance of the cases to which he referred. That court would hold its sittings in public, and have all the powers which a court of record had of administering an oath, of compelling the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents, and of punishing for contempt. There would still be an appeal to the judges as visitors, and the judges, instead of sitting as they now did in private, would sit in public.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That leave be given to bring in a Bill for the better Government of the Inns of Court, and for the Discipline of the Bar.


said, he was not disposed to quarrel with the statement of the hon. and learned Member as to the present constitution of the Bench. The hon. and learned Member, of course, did not mean to insinuate that the benchers did not in the administration of the funds act for the real benefit of the Inns. [Sir GEORGE BOWYER: Hear.] In that respect the conduct of the authorities in question had been beyond reproach. Un- der the circumstances which the hon. and learned Baronet had stated, he thought it would be better that any discussion on the measure should be postponed. He should not object to the introduction of the Bill, but he must not be taken to admit the existence of any evils in the existing constitution of the Inns of Court, or any need of Parliamentary interference.


said, he would offer no opposition to the introduction of the Bill; but, at the same time, he must beg leave to be understood as not assenting to the necessity for it. The subject had been frequently inquired into, and upon the last inquiry in 1855 the Royal Commissioners had been satisfied upon every point. The Commissioners, including such men as Sir W. P. Wood, Sir J. T. Coleridge, Sir A. Cockburn, and others, reported that they found no trace of any misapplication of funds, but they did find many instances of disinterestedness and public spirit on the part of the benchers in not enforcing the payment of fees. For the administration of the funds it would be impossible to select a more efficient body than the present benchers, who comprised some of the most eminent names in our legal annals. With respect to the investigations of those bodies into the conduct of members of the Bar, it was true that they were conducted in private; but in what other way could an inquiry be conducted in which the moral conduct of members of the Bar was in question, without inflicting serious injury upon the persons accused?

Leave given.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir GEORGE BOWYER, Mr. WILLIAM EWART, and Mr. HENNESSY.

Bill presented and read 1o,