Our history

Beginnings

Lawyers took over the Inner and Middle Temples from the Order of Knights Templar, a Common Bench having been established at Westminster in the late 13th and early 14th century.  Lincoln's and Gray's Inns grew from association with Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln and the de Gray family respectively. From the 17th century onward, the right to practise as an advocate in the Royal Courts was restricted to members of the Inns, the Bar becoming firmly a referral profession acting on the instructions of solicitors in the 19th century.

Discipline

Discipline over the Bar has, since the reign of His Majesty King Edward I, been the responsibility of the judges, in practice carried out by the benchers of the Inns but subject to the visitorial jurisdiction of the judges. The General Council of the Bar (Bar Council) was formed in 1894 to deal with matters of professional etiquette.

In 1974, the Bar Council and the governing body of the Inns, the Senate, combined to form the Senate of the Inns of Court and the Bar. However, on 1 January 1987, in line with the recommendations of a report on the Constitution of the Senate by Lord Rawlinson PC QC, a Council of the Inns of Court was re-established separately and the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 designated the Bar Council as the authorised body for the profession.

Regulatory framework

The Courts and Legal Services Act provides that individuals can appear in court if they are members of a professional body which has rules governing the conduct of its members, has an effective mechanism for enforcing those rules and is likely to enforce them. Accordingly, the Bar Council - though its ring-fenced regulator, The Bar Standards Board - provides a regulatory framework, dealing with complaints and discipline, ethics and standards, education and training, equal opportunities and pupillage. It also publishes guidance on a range of other subjects such as practice management, health and safety and taxation.

Representative responsibilities

The Bar Council represents the Bar on an increasing number of issues, including the administration of justice and relations with Government, the European Union, legal professions in other countries and other organisations with common interests. It participates in the negotiation of publicly funded fees in addition to law reform consultation. Over 200 barristers serve on a range of committees, working in the interest of of the profession and of the public by seeking to improve the quality of service that the profession provides. The positive involvement of so many practitioners also promotes accountability, both generally and within the work of the Secretariat.