The legal year

History

The service in Westminster Abbey dates back to the middle ages when judges prayed for guidance at the start of the legal term. Judges, whose courts were held in Westminster Hall, left the city and walked to the abbey to take part in the service.

Present Day

The ceremonies now are more or less as they have always been but, instead of the two mile walk from Temple Bar to Westminster Abbey, the judges now travel by car.

The 45-minute service, which starts at 11:30am, is conducted by the Dean of Westminster. It includes prayers, hymns, psalms and anthems; the Lord Chancellor reads a lesson.

Around 700 people are invited to attend the service and breakfast. These include judges, senior judicial officers, the Law Officers, Queen’s Counsel (QC), government ministers, lawyers, members of the European Court and other overseas judges and lawyers. Judges and QCs wear ceremonial dress.

Disruption of ceremonies

Although well-established traditions, both ceremonies were cancelled during the last century. In 1940 the service had to be cancelled due to bomb damage in Westminster Abbey; it was not held again until 1946.

In 1953 the ceremony took place in St Margaret’s Church because structures and decorations for the coronation in the abbey had not been removed.

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