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The Fall and Rise of Doctors' Commons?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 July 2008

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The historic new LLM degree in Canon Law from the University of Wales College of Cardiff means that there now exists a body of Canon Law graduates, the first ‘home-grown’ canonists in this country since the King's Vicar-General. Thomas Cromwell, suppressed the faculties of Canon Law at Cambridge and Oxford in 1535. It was for a gathering of the first such graduates that the original version of this paper was prepared.

Research Article
Copyright © Ecclesiastical Law Society 1996


1 I wish to express my thanks to all those who made helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper, especially Professor J. H. Baker and the present President of Doctors' Commons. Sir John Owen. Any remaining mistakes are my own.

2 Squibb, G. D.. Q.C.. Doctors' Commons: A History of the College of Advocates and Doctors of Law (Clarendon Press. Oxford. 1977)Google Scholar (hereafter ‘Squibb’), p. 7.

3 Squibb, p. 56.

4 ibid. p. 18.

5 That is, the Metropolitan Court for the Province of Canterbury, as opposed to the original Court of Arches which dealt with the Archbishop of Canterbury's Peculiar Parishes in the City of London.

6 I.e. they did not require separate admission, see Parliamentary Papers 1844 (282). Other courts did (e.g. The High Court of Chivalry) although this was automatic after admission in the Court of Arches.

7 Admission as an Advocate in the Consistory Court of York followed a similar pattern, and was considered to include admission into all of the Archbishop of York's courts: Parliamentary Papers 1844(282).

8 See R. v. The Archbishop of Canterbury (1807)Google Scholar 8 East 212 for a fuller description of the normal practice of admission (case of a deacon refused admittance because he was in Holy Orders, as was the practice at that time). Examples of petitions and fiats, and the resulting rescripts or commissions covering c.1690–1855 can be seen in Lambeth Palace Library (LPL) class Kkk 1–12. 14 & 17.

9 Parliamentary Papers 1844 (282).

10 Squibb, p. 31. This did not stop him rising to become President by 1660. ibid. p. 117. Similarly, degrees from any University in the world were recognised, e.g. Julius Caesar was admitted as Advocate in 1586 with a DCL from Paris without incorporating at Oxford or Cambridge: ibid. p. 31.

11 The statute, which is in latin, is reproduced in Parliamentary Papers 1826–1827 (439).

12 Parliamentary Papers 1844 (327). For petitions, rescripts and testimonials, see LPL class Kkk.

13 The text of the Charter is given in full in Squibb. Appendix V. pp. 210–214.

14 That is. strictly speaking, the Official Principal of the Arches Court of Canterbury.

15 Thus enshrining in the Charter what had been the practice of the College for nearly a hundred years. The President was the only member who was not required to possess such qualifications, as he was a fellow ex-officio and was therefore never ‘a candidate for admission as a fellow …’ to which the strict qualifications applied: see the Charter, loc. cit. p. 213.

16 20 & 21 Vict. cap. 77.

17 Although in the early nineteenth century, many advocates had started to become members of the Bar as well: Sir Herbert Jenner-Fust. (President 1834–52) had been called to the Bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1800 (three years before admission as an advocate) and every subsequent Dean of the Arches has been a Barrister.

18 20 & 21 Vict. cap. 85.

19 21 & 22 Vict. cap. 95.

20 22 & 23 Vict. cap. 6.

21 An entry fee of £20 brought the members about £4000 as proceeds of the sale.

22 Approximately 364 years!

23 Parliamentary Papers 1859 Sess.1 (16). pp. 9–10.

24 Dr Lee's Memorial to the Visitors, reproduced in Parliamentary Papers 1859 Sess.1 (16), pp. 13–14.

25 It seems that even at this stage not everyone felt this was the end. Minutes of the College's penultimate meeting record a resolution that the Register of Doctors' Commons ‘be presented to the Lambeth Registry’. At the next meeting, this was subtly corrected to ‘be deposited for safe custody with the Lambeth Registry’; Minute Book, LPL DC2.

26 Squibb, p. 108.

27 Just to confuse things, the members of the College are called ‘fellows’ in the Charter.

28 Squibb makes this mistake on p. 117 when he describes Phillimore as ‘The last member of the College to hold the offices of Official Principal and Dean of the Arches.’ See the Charter:‘… And that the said college shall consist of a PRESIDENT: namely, the Dean of the Arches for the time being, and of such Doctors of Law of either of the Universities of Oxford or Cambridge, who have been admitted advocates in pursuance of the rescript of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and who have been elected fellows of the said college in the manner hereafter mentioned; …’ (my italics).

29 Halsbury. Vol. 9. para. 1390: Grant, . Law of Corporations. (Butterworths. 1850) 46.Google Scholar

30 Halsbury. Vol. 9. para. 1391: Eastern Archipelago Co. v. R (1853)Google Scholar 2 E & B 856 at 869. Ex Ch. per Martin B.

31 Halsbury. Vol. 9. para. 1393: Grant, . Law of Corporations. 10.Google Scholar

32 See Wilcock, . The Law of Municipal Corporations. (London 1827) 852 (p. 325)Google Scholar: ‘The frequent use of the word Dissolution in law books is no ground for argument: for at different times it has been held in all instances to which the expression has been applied, that the body was not ipso facto dissolved: …’ See also Grant.

33 Colchester Corporation v Brooke (1846)Google Scholar 7 QB 339: Colchester Corporation v. Seaber (1766) 3 Burr 1866.Google Scholar

34 (1828) 7 B & C 708

35 R. v. Hughes (1828)Google Scholar 7 B & C 708. at p. 717.

36 That the President is one of the fellows is shown clearly in the Charter when the fellows other than the President are nominated, finishing thus:'… to be together with the said President, the first and modern members or fellows of the said college …'

37 1 May 1934 LPL Lang papers. Dibdin did not die until 1938.

38 The Law of Municipal Corporations. 852 (p. 325)Google Scholar ‘When the question has been closely pressed on the Court. they have avoided it. by finding that in the particular cases urged, the Corporation was in a state of suspension …’ and R. v. Hughes is an excellent example of that.

39 Law of Corporations, 303.

40 The use of these initials is relatively modern. The register of Doctors' Commons (1511–1855) LPL: DC1 makes no distinction between universities. The initials used for the various law doctorates are: d.d. or dec.d. (decretorum doctor—Doctor of Canon Law); ll.d. (legii doctor—Doctor of Laws) and u.j.d. (utriusque juris doctor—Doctor of both Laws).

41 This nearly happened in the 1984, when Professor David McClean DCL successfully petitioned the Archbishop for admission as an Advocate. The admission, however, did not take place.