In re S (A Barrister): 1970

(Inns of Court) The regulation of barristers has been delegated by the judges to the Inns of Court. Five judges sitting as Visitors of the Inns of Court stated that ‘the judges as visitors have always had supervisory powers and their decision, upon an appeal by a barrister or student to them, has always been the final determination of such matter’.
Paull J said: ‘all through the history of the Inns (of Court) . . a call to the bar does not mean a call to the bar of any court. It only means a call to the bar of the particular Inn.’ And further that since 1292 the power to ‘provide and ordain . . attorneys and lawyers . . was left to the discretion of the justices’ so that: ‘from that time onwards for many years not all those who had been called to the bar of their Inns were allowed to practise in the courts at Westminster. From time to time regulations were made by the judges prescribing the period of time which must elapse after call to the bar of an Inn before the right to audience in the courts was exercised. By the middle of the 17th century it was accepted by the judges that, provided the call had been published in the Inn and the oaths of allegiance and supremacy taken, no further qualification was required to entitle the person called to the bar of his Inn to appear in any of the King’s courts for any client who saw fit to retain his services . . It is clear that the judges never passed over the whole control to the Inns. They kept quite a tight rein on the internal affairs of the Inn, particularly in so far as such affairs related to those who might practise before them. This is of great importance because from time to time the word ‘delegation’ appears in reference to the powers of the Inns given to them by the judges. One of the problems is the precise meaning of that word ‘delegation’ in the context in which it has been used.’
Paull J then observed: ‘The latest example of the use of the word ‘delegation’ is in Attorney-General of Gambia v N’Jie . . where Lord Denning uses the words: ‘By the common law of England the judges have the right to determine who shall be admitted to practise as barristers and solicitors: and, as incidental thereto, the judges have the right to suspend or prohibit from practice. In England this power has for a very long time been delegated, so far as barristers are concerned, to the Inns of Court: and, for a much shorter time, so far as solicitors are concerned, to the Law Society.’
It will be noticed that Lord Denning uses the same word ‘delegated’ in regard to the rights of the judges over who should appear before them as advocates in the case of barristers and their rights in the case of solicitors. Clearly the word ‘delegate’ so used cannot have precisely the same meaning in each case, since the rights of solicitors are to some extent governed by Acts of Parliament and solicitors do not appear before High Court judges as advocates.
It seems clear that Lord Mansfield in his use of the word ‘delegate’ was not using that word in the narrow sense in which it is sometimes used today and which is the basis of the doctrine ‘delegatus non potest delegare’; neither was Lord Denning. Both were using it in the sense that, in regard to the Inns, the judges over a long period, from time to time, had concurred in the Inns performing the duty of selecting those persons who were fit and proper persons to be called to the bar and to be entitled to a right of audience in the courts and the duty of suspending or prohibiting such persons from practice. The exercise of these duties has been at all times, and remains, subject to the visitorial jurisdiction of the judges. Further, the judges in relation to their judicial duties as to who should have the right of audience have never divested themselves of those duties, nor could they ever do so.’

Paull, Lloyd-Jones, Stamp, James and Blain JJ
[1970] 1 QB 160
England and Wales
Cited by:
CitedMehey and Others, Regina (on The Application of) v Visitors To The Inns of Court and Others CA 16-Dec-2014
The court was asked whether disciplinary proceedings against a number of barristers were invalid on the ground that some of the individuals who heard those proceedings or appeals therefrom were disqualified from sitting.
Held: The appeals . .
CitedO’Connor v Bar Standards Board SC 6-Dec-2017
The claimant barrister complained of the manner of conduct of the disciplinary proceedings brought against her. She had been cleared of any breach of the Bar Code of Conduct, but her claim was then ruled out of time under section 7(5)(a), time . .

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Updated: 10 November 2021; Ref: scu.540219