The Bar of England and Wales

The Inns of Court

The four Inns of Court have the exclusive right to “Call” men and women to the Bar – ie to admit those who have fulfilled the necessary qualifications to the degree of Barrister-at-Law, which entitles them, after a period of pupillage (vocational training) either to practise as independent advocates in the Courts of England and Wales or to take employment in government or local government service, industry, commerce or finance. Thus, to qualify as a barrister, everyone must join an Inn and keep a qualifying session on at least 12 occasions.

The government of each Inn is ultimately controlled by the Masters of the Bench, elected mainly from among its members who are also senior members of the judiciary or Queen’s Counsel.

Grays Inn
There has been law teaching on this site since the reign of Edward III. The London residence of the De Grey family, who had strong links with the Wales and Chester Circuit, was the Manor of Purpoole, where a number of lawyers and their families came to live and work and formed the Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn. The Inn flourished under the first Elizabeth. The Hall was completed at the beginning of her reign and anyone who was anyone at her Court joined Gray’s. The ‘Armada’ screen in the Hall may have been partly made from the timbers of the Spanish ship ‘Nuestra Senora del Rosario’ and donated by the Lord High Admiral of England, Howard of Effingham, who was a member.

The Inner Temple
The recorded history of the area known as the Temple begins in about 1160 when it was acquired by the Knights of the Military Order of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, who moved their London base there from the Old Temple site in Holborn. Following the loss of the Holy Land in the 1290s, the Order of the Temple declined and in 1312 was dissolved, after the Knights had been arrested and imprisoned at the instigation of Pope Clement V for alleged malpractice. The Templars estates were granted by the Pope to the Knights of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem and, although the New Temple was seized initially by Edward II as forfeit to the Crown, the King conceded the consecrated portion and subsequently the whole site to the Hospitallers.

The Inner Temple Library provides a service for Inner Temple barristers and students and for barrister members of the other Inns of Court. Facilities include a reference library of over 70,000 volumes of English law as well as Specialist Scottish & Commonwealth collections. There is also a very comprehensive Current Awareness blog.

Lincoln’s Inn
In the heart of Central London lies Lincoln’s Inn, a haven from the roar of traffic and crowded pavements. The Inn occupies most of the rectangle formed by High Holborn on the north, Carey Street and the Royal Courts of Justice on the south, Chancery Lane on the east and Lincoln’s Inn Fields on the west. Indeed, if one excludes the frontage to High Holborn and the south-eastern block, the eleven acres of the Inn comprise virtually all that remains. The Inn is old, very old; but it is no mere relic. It houses a living, functional body of public importance, the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn. ”Lincoln’s Inn” is thus a term which describes both the place and the Society which inhabits it.

Middle Temple
No precise date can be given for the establishment of the Middle Temple, or for that matter of the other three Inns of Court, though it is likely that the four Inns had come into being by the middle of the 14th century. The Inn’s name derives from the Knights Templar who were in possession of the site we now call the Temple for some 150 years. The origins of the Inn trace from two roots: the occupation of the Knights and the replacement of priestly lawyers by a lay profession.

The Bar Circuits

The Bar Circuits are the oldest professional bodies representing the Bar. They cover all fields of practice.

The European Circuit, formed in 2001, is apparently the first new circuit of the Bar to have been formed for hundreds of years! The European Circuit will to bring together within one network barristers practising european law (in the broadest sense of the term), barristers working in Europe and european lawyers with a link to the UK. The Circuit was launched in response to the growth in barristers’ practice in continental Europe – whether in international corporations, institutions or private practice – and the Circuit should assist in consolidating such growth. Furthermore the membership will be spread across Europe and dealing with many different local bars; it is hoped that the Circuit can contribute to local establishment of barristers and assist in promoting the services of members of the Circuit Europe-wide. The function of the European Circuit will therefore be to provide support and assistance to its members on the one hand and, on the other, to liaise with various bar organisations across Europe.

The Midland Circuit exists to serve and represent barristers working in the Midlands. In the rapidly changing market for legal services, the work of the Circuit in bringing the Bar together and representing the Midlands Bar at a national level has never been more important. This site should help make life a little easier for all Midlands counsel providing news on fees, the CPS, the Carter Review, new appointments and alike, as well as information on the Circuit’s comprehensive programme of continuing education and social events.

The North Eastern Circuit consists of barristers practising principally, but not exclusively, in the courts of the North Eastern Circuit. Leeds and the North East now have the most important legal centres outside London. There are nearly 700 members, 57 of whom are Queen’s Counsel. They practice in all of the major court centres from some 27 sets of chambers around the Circuit including 2 London-based sets whose members work almost exclusively on the Circuit.

The South Eastern Circuit is the largest and most influential of the six circuits. It covers an area east of an imaginary line drawn from King’s Lynn in the north to Chichester in the south, through Cambridge, Luton, Aylesbury and Reading and down to Guildford and along the western boundary of Sussex. It includes London. Despite its size it manages to retain a friendly feel through its network of regional Messes, each with its own Chairman and Committee.

Wales and Chester Circuit
In October 1998, the Circuit approved and published its first written constitution. The objects of the Circuit are (a) to promote and maintain the highest professional standards among its members, (b) to provide professional education and training for its members and their pupils, and (c) to promote the professional interests and welfare of its members. It is open to a member of another Circuit to join ours. In each of the principal court centres is a local bar mess, comprising members who practise locally to that court centre.

The Western Circuit is the body which represents the interests of barristers who practice in the South and South West of England. The officers comprise a Leader, Junior, and Wine Treasurer who speak on behalf of 900+ practising barristers located in a total of some 110 chambers both on Circuit and in London. In addition, Law Lords, Lord Justices of Appeal, High Court Judges, Circuit Judges, District Judges, retired Circuit barristers, Academics and past Senior Administrators make up the remaining 20% of members.

Bar associations

The Bar Council represents barristers in England and Wales. It promotes the Bar’s high quality specialist advocacy and advisory services, fair access to justice for all, the highest standards of ethics, equality and diversity across the profession, and the development of business opportunities for barristers at home and abroad. There are now over 15,000 practising barristers, employed and self-employed, in England and Wales. Relatively recent rule changes to the way in which barristers work mean that the Bar is more accessible than ever through Public Access and Licensed Access. The official directory of barristers authorised to practise by the General Council of the Bar for England and Wales, the Bar Directory (see below) is the leading guide to barristers. The Bar Directory is published by Sweet & Maxwell.

The Pupilage Gateway (a successor to OLPAS, the online pupillage application system) provides information about pupillage, how to obtain it and how to offer it.

Bar Pro Bono Unit has almost 1,000 barristers offering their services and hundreds of individuals receiving assistance with cases. The site provides information on the type of case the Unit considers, examples of cases it has assisted and the process of referring cases to barristers. There is a members-only area as well as the public area.

The Chancery Bar Association is an association of over 1,000 barristers in private practice undertaking the commercial and property work which is associated with the Chancery Division of the High Court. The majority of members are in general Chancery Chambers, undertaking a broad spectrum of work, a major part of which is company and commercial litigation. The site is light and bright and informative. It gives the history of Chancery work and describes the sort of work involved. It lists all Chambers with members of the Chancery Bar Association and provides news and updates; it also has a good set of legal links.

Commercial Bar Association (COMBAR) was formed over ten years ago, to bring together barristers who practise in the field of international and commercial law and who offer that service. Its members consist of sets of chambers in London where all or most of the barristers practise in this field, and of individual members, who are members of other chambers in which only a few are in such practice. The present membership amounts to some 900 barristers drawn from 48 sets of chambers, 28 of which have joined as chambers. Three of its former Chairmen are Judges of the Commercial Court. Thus, it truly represents the whole Commercial Bar and constitutes an impressive body of specialist expertise and advocacy skills in banking, insurance, international trade, shipping and other key commercial activities

Criminal Bar Association is by far the largest of all the Specialist Bar Associations, with a current membership of nearly 4000. Formed in 1969, it exists to represent the views of the practising members of the independent criminal Bar in England and Wales. It also provides continuing professional development, accreditation, information about the law, programs to assist barristers in their work, advice and initiatives to improve the Criminal Justice System for the public. The Association is invariably invited to make written or oral submissions (either in its own right, or jointly or on behalf of the Bar Council) to all major inquiries or reviews of the criminal justice system. The International Sub-Committee maintains strong links with organisations such as the International Bar Association, the European Criminal Bar Association and the American Bar Association.

Family Law Bar Association (FLBA) is the specialist bar association for family barristers. With about 1700 members, it organises conferences, seminars, meetings and social events throughout the country via its regional network and often in conjunction with Resolution. It produces a newsletter, Family Affairs, three times a year to keep its members up to date with events around the country and the more important changes in the law and procedure. Annually since 1992 it has published and sold At A Glance, a 90 page ready reckoner for use in financial cases. At A Glance is widely used by practitioners and the judiciary. In matters of law and procedural reform the FLBA is frequently consulted by government departments, including the Lord Chancellor’s Department. All barristers practising in this field are encouraged to join the FLBA.

The International Bar Association (IBA), established in 1947, is the world’s leading organisation of international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. The IBA influences the development of international law reform and shapes the future of the legal profession throughout the world. It has a membership of 30,000 individual lawyers and more than 195 bar associations and law societies spanning all continents. It has considerable expertise in providing assistance to the global legal community.

The International Bar Association pro bono website has been created by the International Bar Association “to bring together the global community of professionals of every level who are involved in pro bono legal work on a local and on an international scale.” It is a very comprehensive site with resources (for example, papers from conferences), articles written especially for the web site, information on events, discussion groups and various useful sets of links to other legal bodies worldwide.

Professional Negligence Bar Association is represented on the General Council of the Bar and is an active consultee in the process of law reform and procedural changes. It carries the view of its members to the Bar Council, Lord Chancellors Department, Law Commission, and a variety of governmental and non-governmental organisations. It publishes the Professional Negligence Law Review, a newsletter produced by Sweet & Maxwell, and Tables for the Calculation of Damages, an annual edition. The great strength of the Association is that throughout the 1990s its members were at the cutting edge of major developments in the law as professional indemnity cases were used to develop wider legal concepts of rights and obligations in tort and in equity. Since being form in 1990, membership has grown to over 900 including over 80 silks. The work undertaken by its members includes generic professional indemnity issues and specialisation concerning legal, clinical, financial and construction professionals, and extends to matters of ethics, discipline, regulatory control and public law accountability.

Property Bar Association is the professional body for Barristers in England & Wales who are able to certify in writing that not less than half of the matters that they deal with concern property or property-related work. PropBar had its inaugural meeting in November 2000 and now has nearly 200 members. It has been accredited by the Bar Council for the purposes of continuing professional development and the New Practitioners’ Programme. It has also been accredited by the Law Society and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) for similar purposes. There is a programme of meetings and lectures and seminars. Papers, agendas and publications from past events can be found on the site.

Revenue Bar Association brings together English barristers who practise in the taxation field. The majority of members are exclusively taxation specialists. Most can handle cases on all taxes. Some have particular fields of specialisation within the wide context of tax law. The others have mixed practices. Many do private client type of work and, in their tax practices, concentrate on the tax affecting trusts, estates and property. Others are criminal lawyers with particular expertise in cases about alleged tax or VAT frauds and the like. Tax barristers also deal with professional negligence and other litigation involving tax and judicial review where the Revenue or Customs have exceeded their powers.


The Bar Standards Board regulates barristers called to the Bar in England and Wales in the public interest. They are responsible for

  • Setting the education and training requirements for becoming a barrister;
  • Setting continuing training requirements to ensure that barristers’ skills are maintained throughout their careers;
  • Setting standards of conduct for barristers;
  • Monitoring the service provided by barristers to assure quality;
  • Handling complaints against barristers and taking disciplinary or other action where appropriate.

There is information on the Code of Conduct for barristers, how to complain about your barrister, how to qualify as a barrister and how to find a barrister. The data base of accredited CPD courses is also housed on this site.