1902 Encyclopedia > Barristers


BARRISTERS, in England, are the highest class of lawyers who have exclusive audience in all the superior courts. Every barrister must be a member of one of the four ancient societies called Inns of Court, viz., Lincoln's Inn, the Inner and Middle Temples, and Gray's Inn. The existence of these societies as schools can be traced back to the 13th century, and their rise is attributed to the clause in Magna Charta, by which the Common Pleas were fixed at Westminster instead of following the king's court, and the professors of law were consequently brought together in London. Associations of lawyers acquired houses of their own in which students were educated in the common law, and the degrees of barrister (corresponding to apprentice or bachelor) and sergeant (corresponding to doctor) were conferred. These schools of law are now represented by the Inns of Court, which still enjoy the exclusive privilege of calling to the bar, and through their superior order of benchers control the discipline of the profession.

Every person not otherwise disqualified may be admit-ted as a student of law by passing a general examination in London, or on producing evidence of his having passed a public examination at a university. The year is divided into four terms, and every student must keep twelve terms before he can be called to the bar. A term is kept by the student's dining six (if a university man, three) times in the hall of his society. Until quite recently the Inns of Court exercised little or no supervision over the legal educa-tion of their students. Any student who had duly kept his terms might be admitted to the baron producing either a certificate of having passed the general examination of the Council of Legal Education, or a certificate of attend-ance at certain public lectures, or of having read in the chambers of a barrister or special pleader for at least twelve months. The examination not being compulsory, was only used as a qualification for call by a minority of students, and neither of the other tests afforded any security as to the applicant's fitness for admission. The regulations both as to legal education and examinations have been very greatly altered. A complete staff of public lecturers and tutors has been established, and every student must pass an examination in jurisprudence, civil and international law, and English law, before being admitted to his call. Persons connected with the law in any inferior capacity (such as that of solicitor and solicitor's clerk), or with trade, will not be admitted as students; and the benchers, besides, have the right of rejecting any applicant with or without cause assigned. For sufficient reasons, and subject to an appeal to the Common Law judges as visitors, they may reject the petition of a student to be called to the bar, or expel from their society and from the profession any barrister or bencher of the inn. This power has been exercised in several cases within recent years, and the benchers appear to take cognizance of any kind of miscon-duct, whether professional or not, which they may deem unworthy of the rank of barrister. The age at which a student may be called to the bar is twenty-one years.

The peculiar business of barristers is the advocacy of causes in open court, but in England a great deal of other business falls into their hands. They are the chief con-veyancers, and the pleadings (i.e., the counter statement* of parties previous to joining issue) are in all but the simplest cases drafted by them. There is, indeed, a separate class of conveyancers and special pleaders, being persons who have kept the necessary number of terms qualifying for a call, but who, instead of being called, take out licences to practise under the bar. There are still a few persons who act under such special licences, but in general conveyancing and special pleading form part of the ordinary work of a junior barrister. The highest rank among barristers is that of king's or queen's counsel. They lead the case in court, and give opinions on cases submitted to them, but they do not accept conveyancing or pleading, nor do they admit pupils to their chambers. Precedence among queen's counsel, as well as among outer barristers, is determined by seniority. The order of sergeants at law still exists, but no new appointments have recently been made, and it will probably be allowed to become extinct, the title of queen's counsel being generally preferred. Sergeants rank after queen's counsel. Although every barrister has a right to practise in any court in England, it will be found, in fact, that each special class of business has its own practitioners, so much so indeed, that the bar may almost be said to be divided into several professions. The most marked distinction is that between barristers practising in Chancery and barristers practising in the courts of Common Law. The fusion of Law and Equity contemplated by the Judicature Act, 1873, may be ex-pected in course of time to break down this distinction; but for many years there has been a complete separation between these two great branches of the profession. There are also subordinate distinctions in each branch Counsel at Common Law attach themselves to one or other of the circuits into which England is divided, and may not practise elsewhere unless under special conditions. In Chancery the queen's counsel for the most part restrict themselves to one or other of the courts of first instance (those of the Vice-Chancellors or Master of the Bolls). Business before the court of Admiralty, the court of Probate and Divorce, the Privy Council, and parliamentary committees, exhibits, though in a less degree, the same tendency to specialization. In some of the larger provincial towns there are now local bars of considerable strength. In Manchester and Liverpool alone there are believed to be between seventy and eighty practising barristers ; and the probable extension of this system cannot fail to have a most important influence on the future character of the profession. The bar of Ireland exhibits in its general arrangements the same features as the bar of England. Every Iri.->h barrister must have kept at least six terms in one of the English Inns of Court. There is no connection whatever between the Scotch and English bars.

Counsel is not answerable for anything spoken by him relative to the cause in hand and suggested in the client's instructions, even though it should reflect on the character of another and prove absolutely groundless, but if he mention an untruth of his own invention, or even upon instructions if it be impertinent to the matter in hand, he is then liable to an action from the party injured. Counsel may also be punished by the summary power of the court or judge as for a contempt, and by the benchers of the inn to which he may belong on cause shown.

The rank of barrister is a necessary qualification for nearly all offices of a judicial character, and a very usual qualification for other important appointments. Not only the judgeships in the Superior Courts of Law and Equity at home and in the colonies, but nearly all the magistracies of minor rank—recorderships, county court judgeships, &c, —are restricted to the bar. The result is a unique feature in the English system of justice, viz., the perfect harmony of opinion and interest between the bar as a profession and all degrees of the judicial bench.

Revising Barristers are counsel of not less than seven years' standing appointed to revise the lists of parliamentary voters.

Barristers cannot maintain an action for their fees, which are regarded as gratuities, nor can they, by the usage of the profession, undertake a case without the intervention of an attorney.

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