History of the Bar


Barristers have been providing expert advice and advocacy since the 13th century.  For many years, they had a monopoly on the right to represent people in the higher courts. Although that monopoly has gone, the Bar remains a thriving profession offering high quality advice and advocacy.

The origins of the Bar

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. In the 19th century, the Bar firmly became a referral profession acting on the instructions of solicitors.

Discipline over the Bar

Discipline over the Bar has, since the reign of Edward I, been the responsibility of judges. In practice, this has been carried out by the benchers of the Inns, 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. 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, and the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 designated the Bar Council as the authorised body for the profession.

Regulating the profession

The Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 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 - through 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.

Representing the Bar

The Bar Council holds representational responsibilities in many areas, 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 and to law reform consultation. Over 200 barristers serve on a range of committees, serving the interests of the profession and the public by seeking to improve the quality of the service which the profession provides. The positive involvement of so many practitioners also promotes accountability, both generally and within the work of the secretariat.