The Honourable Society of the Middle Temple

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The Inn as a Local Authority

Historical Background

The Under Treasurer of the Middle Temple and the Sub-Treasurer of the Inner Temple are designated as local authorities with a status equivalent to the councils of the Inner London Boroughs.

Although situated within the boundaries of the City of London, the Inner and Middle Temple are not subject to the jurisdiction of the Mayor and Corporation of London. They claim this exemption as successors of the Knights Templar, who constructed the Temple Church and surrounding buildings on the site in the 12th century. By Papal Bull, the Knights Templar were rendered exempt from all civic and ecclesiastical jurisdiction and were answerable only to the Pope. This exemption was also claimed by the Knights Hospitaller, who were granted the Temple Church and surrounding site not long after the abolition of the Knights Templar. On the dissolution of the religious orders under Henry VIII, the Temple reverted to the Crown and continued to be exempt from the jurisdiction of the Mayor and Corporation of London.

The two societies of lawyers who had come to occupy the Temple in the 14th century, the Honourable Societies of the Inner Temple and the Middle Temple, continued as tenants of the Crown until 13 August 1608 when letters patent of James I conveyed the lands and buildings of the Temple to the two Inns in free and common socage*. These letters patent** confirmed the Societies’ status as liberties.

*Free and common socage: this was a form of feudal tenure where land was granted in return for the performance of specific duties or payments.

**Letters patent of James I: this was the legal instrument whereby the King granted the lands and buildings of the Temple to the two Inns in perpetuity on condition the Inns use them for the accommodation and education of students and practitioners of the Law and that the Inns maintain the Temple Church and its Master.

Rating Powers

Under Victorian legislation, the Inner Temple and Middle Temple were constituted civil ‘parishes’ for certain purposes, including poor relief, and were not to form part of any Poor Law Union or District. The Under Treasurer of the Middle Temple and the Sub-Treasurer of the Inner Temple were to act as Overseers of the Poor, but there were no poor rates levied – only a contribution to the common poor law fund made by the Benchers of both Inns. Indeed, no rates were levied by any outside authority on individual tenants of the Inns. The Masters of the Bench acted as rating authorities, paying the amount due to the Corporation of London (e.g. police rate), London County Council, water authorities and other such bodies for contracted services and claiming back contributions from tenants as they saw fit. However, the Inns’ rate-raising powers were undermined by the Local Government Finance Act (1988). Although continuing to stress their status as liberties, they agreed that the City Corporation should be the charging authority for the community charge and that the Inns should levy the agreed amounts on tenants.


Until the middle of the 19th century, the Inns undertook their own policing and the City police were excluded from the Inns’ precincts, although the Inns did agree to contribute to the City police rate under the City Police Act of 1839. In 1857 the City police were allowed into the Temple and continue to police the precincts to this day, in liaison with the Inns' security staff.

Local Authority Functions

Under the Temples Order of 1971 the Inner Temple and Middle Temple were defined as local authorities with the same powers and responsibilities as the Inner London boroughs under the London Government Act 1963, except in relation to housing.

For most purposes the Middle Temple is not subject to the jurisdiction of the Common Council of the Corporation of London. However, there are exceptions relating to town planning (including local development plans) and listed historical buildings.

Delegation of Certain Local Authority Functions

Under the 1971 Temples Order, the Sub-Treasurer of the Inner Temple and the Under Treasurer of the Middle Temple were entitled to delegate the exercise of certain functions to the City Corporation, acting as their agent, for payments to be agreed with the City Corporation. A precedent for this delegation of duties lay in the Patchett Order of 1903. This Court Order, which was later given statutory force, restrained the City Corporation from enforcing the City of London Sewers Acts within the Inner Temple and Middle Temple, since they lay outside the City’s jurisdiction, provided that the Societies made a voluntary payment to the Corporation in lieu of sewer rates.

The 1971 Order specifically provided for the exercise of the following functions by the Common Council of the Corporation of London within ‘the Temples’ (i.e. the Inner Temple and Middle Temple):

  • matters concerning local authority health, children’s and civil defence functions
  • accommodation and welfare of disabled and old persons
  • land drainage, flood protection, sewerage etc (the Temple sewers are private sewers which enter the public sewers outside the boundaries of the Temple)
  • local taxation licences
  • local land charges
  • the Registration Service Act 1953
  • dog licensing
  • food and drugs, and milk from diseased cows
  • matters re Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1960 & Matrimonial Act 1965
  • public libraries and museums

Some of these functions no longer apply because of subsequent changes in legislation (for example the abolition of dog licensing) or have been transferred to other bodies (for example the transfer of responsibility for sewerage from the Corporation of London to Thames Water under the Water Act 1973). In recognition of these changes, there was an attempt in the 1980s to introduce a new Temples Order to replace the 1971 Temples Order. However, by 1992 government ministers had decided not to proceed with it.

Remaining Local Authority Functions

The Sub-Treasurer of the Inner Temple and Under Treasurer of the Middle Temple are currently left to exercise local authority functions which include:

  • Environmental protection
  • Paving and lighting (although roads within the Temple are classified as private roads)
  • Planning (except development plans and listed buildings)
  • Public health and safety
  • Refuse collection
  • Water supply
  • Licensing (events and liquor)

Legislation covering these functions includes:

  • The Public Health Acts 1936 & 1961
  • The Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984
  • The Water Acts 1945 & 1989
  • The Water Industry Act 1991 (in relation to those local authority functions specified in sections 77 to 85 inclusive)
  • The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (to exercise all the powers contained in sections 20 (2), 21, 22 & 25)
  • The Agriculture Act 1970
  • The Hydrogen Cyanide (Fumigation of Buildings) Regulations 1951
  • The Children and Young Persons Act 1933, as amended
  • The Food Safety Act 1990
  • The Food and Environment Protection Act part III as amended by the Pesticides (Fees and Enforcement) Act 1989 (in relation to those enforcement powers which may be exercised by an officer of a local authority)
  • The Environmental Protection Act 1990 (in relation to the Joint Statutory Recycling Plan under section 49)
  • The Licensing Act 2003