Home >> Bouvier's Law Dictionary >> Safe to Smuggling >> Serjeants At Law


court, bench, common and serjeant-at-law

SERJEANTS-AT-LAW. A very ancient and the most honorable order of advocates at the common law.

They were called, formerly, countors, or serjeant-countors, or countors of the bench (in the old law-Latin phrase, banci narra tores), and are mentioned by Matthew Paris in the life of John I., written in 1255. They are limited to fifteen in number, in addition to the judges of the courts of Westminster, who were always admitted before being ad vanced to the bench. This legal monopoly of the bench lasted, in theory, till 1875, though in recent years a judge designate was made a serjeaut as a preliminary to being sworn into office. Jenks, Hist. E. L. 199.

The most distinctive feature in the Ser jeant's dress in olden times was the "coif," a close-fitting head-covering of lawn or silk. He was invested with this on the day of his call by the chief justice of the king's bench, and it was not doffed even in the presence of the sovereign. It is supposed that the coif was invented for the purpose of hiding the clerical tonsure. This concealment became desirable after the law of 1217, which debar red churchmen from their lucrative practice in the courts.

The most valuable privilege formerly en joyed by the serjeants was the monopoly of the practice in the court of common pleas. A bill was Introduced into parliament for the purpose of destroying this monopoly, in 1755, which did not pass. In 1833, a warrant under

the sign manual was directed to the judges of the common pleas, commanding them to open that court to the bar at large. The or der was received and complied with. In 1839, the matter was brought before the court and decided to be illegal ; 10 Bingb. 571; 6 Bingh. N. C. 187, 232. The exclusive privilege of serjeants to appear at the bar of the common pleas was argued before the privy council by Lord Brougham in 1839; see Manning's &miens ad Legem.

The statute 9 & 10 Vict. c. 54, has since ex tended the privilege to all barristers ; 3 Sharsw. Bla. Com. 27, n. Upon the Judica ture Act coming into operation, the institu tion and office of serjeant-at-law virtually came to an end ; Weeks, Att. at Law 33.

In 1812 Mr. Justice Story made an order in the United States circuit court for the first circuit conferring upon Jeremiah Smith and Jeremiah Mason "the honorable decree of Serjeant-at-Law"; Charles Warren, in 46 Am. L. Rev. 667.

The last surviving serjeant-at-law was Lord Justice Lindley, who was admitted to Serjeant's Inn in 1875.

See Experiences of Serjeant Ballantine, Lond. 1882; Pulling, Order of Coif; INNS OF COURT; FARYNDON INN.