King's Inns in Dublin

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The Honorable Society of King's Inns (HSKI), is the institution which controls the entry of barristers-at-law into the justice system of the Republic of Ireland. The full title retains the historical spelling variant "honorable" in preference to the contemporary Irish/British "honourable" (see article 'spelling differences').


The society was created in 1541, this being 51 years before Trinity College, Dublin, was founded, making it one of Ireland's oldest professional and educational institutions. The founders named their society in honour of King Henry VIII and his newly-established Kingdom of Ireland, and secured a lease of lands at Inns Quay on the north bank of the Liffey. The society was reconstituted in 1607, having been inactive for some time. In 1790 the Inns Quays site was acquired for the purposes of the Four Courts; the foundation stone at the present building at the top of Henrietta Street was laid on 1 August 1800, with James Gandon being commissioned as the architect. The building was completed by his pupil Henry Aaron Baker.

Academic Life

From almost the moment that King's Inns was founded, London required Irishmen who wished to practice as barristers to attend the inns of court in London, and that requirement stayed in place until the late nineteenth century. Only from the middle of the eighteenth century onwards were courses of legal education provided at King's Inns. Candidates who have an approved law degree may apply for the Degree of Barrister-at-Law . Alternatively, candidates without an approved law degree may undertake the society's Diploma in Legal Studies before presenting for the society's degree. Those who are presented with the degree are entitled to be called to and practise at the "Bar of Ireland". In 2006, the society had an enrolment of approximately 300 students, whilst there are approximately 2,000 practising barristers.


The society has generally kept a low profile in current affairs in Ireland, though it did come to prominence in 1972, when financial difficulties led to the society selling a considerable stock of non-legal books it had in its library. The library collection dates from the end of the 18th century, (when the society also adopted its motto 'Nolumus mutari'), and was based on part of that of Mr Justice Robinson. Books were sold at auction at Sotheby's, London, and a considerable stock of them were sold to clients outside Ireland. This was seen at the time as a major cultural outflow, as many of the books were of historical and cultural significance. In addition, the society's library had received an annual grant since 1945 for the upkeep of the books from the Irish Exchequer. A King's Inns team or individual has often won the prestigious Irish Times National Debating Championship, and in 2010 won the European Universities Debating Championships. In 2006 the Inns' hurling team competed in and won the Fergal Maher Cup (3rd Level Division 3) in their inaugural year and have subsequently reached the final and semi-final.

After crossing Dorset Street, Henrietta Street runs into King's Inns Street. The latter was renamed due to its proximity to the King's Inns. In 1756, this street appears as "Turn Again Lane" on Rocque's map of Dublin. Henrietta Street is thought to have been named by Luke Gardiner in honour of Henrietta Somerset (1690-1726), who was married to the second duke of Grafton, lord lieutenant of Ireland, 1724-7. Her portrait by Enoch Seeman survives.

Analysis and criticism of King’s Inns

In 1990, the Irish Government's Fair Trade Commission, which had spent the previous four years examining the legal profession in Ireland, presented its report on the legal professions to the Minister for Industry and Commerce.

The Commission said that it had "been impressed by the substantial volume of criticism of the BL degree course offered by King's Inns, and the unfavourable criticism of the education for barristers compared to that provided for solicitors". It also said that "[t]here seems no educational merit or collegiate benefit from the requirement to attend commons on 20 occasions, since the students are segregated from practising barristers and the judiciary, though alternative arrangements might commend themselves and not require the element of compulsion."

The Commission also found that the supposed disciplinary powers of the King's Inns, which have never been tested before an Irish court, would be unlikely to withstand scrutiny under the Constitution in light of the findings of the Supreme Court in the case of Re Solicitors Act, 1954. It said "[i]t seems to the Commission that, were the exercise of these powers ever to be challenged, it would be consistent with the judgment of the Supreme Court regarding the exercise of powers by the Law Society that it would be contrary to the Constitution for either the Bar Council of Ireland or the Benchers of King's Inns to be entitled to disbar a barrister. The Commission considers that disbarment of a barrister should, therefore, be a matter for the Courts. While this power might be given to the High Court, as with solicitors, it might be necessary for it to be exercised by the Supreme Court, since the barrister is called to the Bar by the Chief Justice of Ireland, while a solicitor is admitted by the President of the High Court. In any case, the Commission recommends that the power to disbar or suspend a barrister should not be exercised by the Bar Council or by the Benchers of King's Inns."

The Commission concluded: "At this stage, it seems appropriate that the Commission should express its surprise at the involvement of the judiciary with the barrister's profession through the institution of King's Inns... There seems no sound reason for any aspect of the profession of barrister to be influenced by the direct participation of the judiciary. Barristers are subject to the authority of judges in their courts, judges can complain to the Bar Council about the behaviour of barristers, and no further involvement would appear to be warranted... If King's Inns were to retain any disciplinary function, however, we consider that the judiciary should play no part in that function, and that a lay presence might be introduced. Furthermore, the Commission considers that the association of the judiciary with the King's Inns might be carefully re-examined in the light of the remaining functions of King's Inns after account has been taken of our recommendations in the field of discipline and other matters."

Notable alumni and academics

  • Theobald Wolfe Tone
  • Daniel O'Connell
  • Edward Carson
  • Patrick Pearse
  • John A. Costello
  • Liam Cosgrave
  • Jack Lynch
  • Charles Haughey
  • Henry Grattan
  • Mick Walsh
  • Kevin McPartlan

External links