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The responsibility for the organisation and running of the Inn is divided between the Masters of the Bench (also known as ‘Benchers’) in Pension and the Under Treasurer, its Chief Executive. Pension meets at least once per legal term.

Barrister members of the Inn are elected to the Bench in accordance with the procedures set out in the Inn’s Standing Orders and the Inn’s rules.

Gray’s Inn encourages applications from all those who desire to contribute to the governance of the Inn. Our policy and supporting processes to elect Benchers aims to be fair and transparent to all. Eligible Members are emailed when applications open to become a Bencher, usually in January each year. Applications are made by self-nomination and further detail on the process can be found in Standing Orders 13.

The role is a tradition almost as old as the Inn itself. The first mention of the title ‘Masters’ was in 1548 and refers to the then owners of Gray’s Inn land. Now, our Benchers are experienced barristers, judges and persons of outstanding public eminence and distinction.

In 2023 Gray’s Inn held a membership wide consultation on the title ’Master’ and Pension voted to retain the title.

Discover the History of Masters of the Bench

  • Discover the History of Masters of the Bench

    The earliest documented use of “Masters of Grayes Inne” that the Archivist can find comes from 1548 and relates to rent paid by said Masters to the then owners of Gray’s Inn land, Shene Priory.  This is a document in the National Archive.

    The title ‘Master’ was not invented by Gray’s Inn, or indeed even the other Inns of Court.  It emerged from the culture of the Guilds: associations of specific tradesmen and artisans, which started to appear in London as Livery Companies from the 12th century.

    Originally all but the lowest rank in the Inns were masters – they were said to be ‘at masters’ commons’.  In the 16th Century, there is evidence of masters of the utter bar as well as masters of the bench.  The word Master is the same as Mister (properly spelt Master, but sometimes found as Maister), The practice of referring to benchers simply as ‘masters’, as opposed to masters of the bench, or benchers, is even later – perhaps late 20th century.

    A ‘Master’ of a Livery Company was an individual who had attained a high-enough level of skill in their trade to teach others. As the Inns of Court share some ‘genetics’ with the City of London Livery Companies, it is not surprising that at Gray’s Inn in particular, to be elected to the Bench until 1690, one first had to serve a term as a ‘Reader’, who was the primary teacher of the student Members for a term or terms.  This meant that for its earliest history, the Inn was governed by a Bench of teachers, internally referred to as ‘Benchers’, but externally referred to as ‘Masters’, by a world conditioned by the Livery Companies to see the teaching class of any collegiate organisation as ‘Masters’.

    The constitution of Gray’s Inn in 1585, as set out in the pleadings in Gray’s Inn v Gargrave (81 Graya)consisted of two degrees, (1) the readers and ancients, (2) ‘the masters and clerks’. So here ‘masters’ (magistri in the Latin of the record) is used for those who are not benchers. There isn’t even any mention of benchers; those who sat on the bench did so because they were readers. Reading was the qualification, whereas sitting on the bench was just the practical consequence of reading.

    The key difference between the early historic ‘Masters’ and today’s ‘Masters’ is that the historic Masters of the four Inns of Court were not the top of the barristerial tree; this rank belonged to the Serjeants-of-Law, the top-most barristers in the country.   Once appointed Sarjeant they left the Inn of their training, to join Serjeants Inn, until this practice was abolished in 1873.  This meant that the Masters of the Bench of each of the four Inns of Court were themselves still apprentices: some of course would not advance any further, but for many it was simply a staging post in their career.

    The title ‘Master’ as used by the Inn originates from a cultural convention established by the Livery Companies, rather than any internal rules or mandates.  However, as a commonly-used term, it does appear in historic sets of rules, for example many historic editions of the Consolidated Regulations of the Four Inns of Court make reference to “Masters of the Bench” as the primary holders of power within each Inn; similarly the Inn’s property and possessions belong to the “Masters of the Bench”, and as seen from 1548 example above, are ultimately accountable for the organisation’s actions.

    One of the reasons the title Master has survived this long (like Mr) is that the title is a style not a title and could properly be declined for gender. But the main reason for not adopting the style Mistresses of the Bench – in itself perfectly correct – is fairly obvious. It is not known whether there was ever an issue over Master of Arts, though it might be assumed that when women were first admitted to university degrees, they wanted to have the same title as the men and so the question didn’t arise.

Current Benchers

Please see the election results for details on recent appointments.

Designated and Departmental Benchers

Designated and Departmental Benchers hold roles specific to key areas of the Inn’s affairs or a particular department of the Inn.  Roles include:

  • Master of Education
  • Master of the Estate
  • Master of Finance
  • Master of the Library
  • Master of Students
  • Master of Administration and Equality and Diversity
  • Master of the House
  • Master of Modern Records
  • Master of Advocacy & CPD

You can find a full list of all Designated and Departmental Masters and their responsibilities in part 1, section 10 of the Inn’s rules.

Royal and Honorary Benchers

Royal and Honorary Benchers are elected from Members and non-members of outstanding public eminence and distinction or who have rendered great service to the Inn. Royal and Honorary Benchers do not have a vote at Pension.

The first Honorary Benchers were elected in 1883. Find out more about Honorary Benchers from the archive.

Find out more

Past Benchers

Search a listing of all past Benchers

Past Honorary Benchers

Search a listing of all past Honorary Benchers dating back to the first Honorary Benchers elected in 1883.

Management Committee

Our Members, responsible for general management of the Inn

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