Chambers moved to its present iconic location in Fountain Court in the Middle Temple (previously the home of the Bar Council) in the 1970s from Crown Office Row in the Inner Temple. While it is possible to trace Chambers’ origins back to before the First World War (when it was based in Hare Court), its period of sustained success dates from after the Second World War.
Leslie Scarman QC (later Lord Scarman), Alan Orr QC (later Lord Justice Orr) and Melford Stevenson QC (later Mr Justice Melford Stevenson) started to build Chambers’ reputation for commercial litigation in the late 1940s and 1950s. They were supported by one of the most distinguished clerks at the Bar, Cyril Batchelor, who was instrumental in Chambers’ rise.
Chambers’ reputation as pre-eminent commercial chambers within the ‘magic circle’ was effectively cemented in the 1960s and 1970s by a number of members widely regarded as the leading advocates of their generation. These included Tom Bingham QC (later Lord Bingham KG), Peter Webster QC (later Mr Justice Webster), Peter Scott QC, Conrad Dehn QC, Christopher Bathurst QC (Viscount Bledisloe), Mark Potter QC (later Lord Justice Potter and subsequently President of the Family Division), Henry Brooke (later Lord Justice Brooke and Vice-President of the Civil Division of the Court of Appeal), Denis Henry QC (later Lord Justice Henry and one of the first recognised specialists in aviation law at the Bar), Timothy Walker QC (later Mr Justice Timothy Walker) and Gordon Langley QC (later Mr Justice Langley).
In their train, and maintaining the same standards of excellence, followed the likes of Peter Goldsmith QC (later Attorney General), Anthony Boswood QC, Trevor Philipson QC, Charles Falconer QC (later Lord Chancellor), Andrew Smith QC (later Mr Justice Andrew Smith), Nicholas Underhill QC (later Lord Justice Underhill), Nicholas Stadlen QC (later Mr Justice Stadlen) and Michael Brindle KC.
Over the years, members of Fountain Court Chambers have appeared in many landmark cases and high profile commercial disputes. In the well-known House of Lords’ case of Caparo v Dickman, all counsel on both sides were from Fountain Court. Several members of Chambers figured prominently in acting for the Bank of England in the celebrated Three Rivers litigation which produced several appeals to the House of Lords. Numerous members of Chambers were involved in the Lloyds litigation which dominated the work of the Commercial Court in the 1990s, and led to two significant appeals in the House of Lords.
More recently, many members have been involved in the Bank Charges litigation (the test case which again ended up in the House of Lords), and, most recently, in the PPI litigation. Other recent substantial cases in which members of Fountain Court appeared include Springwell Navigation v JP Morgan Chase and Stone & Rolls Ltd v Moore Stephens (House of Lords). Latterly several members of Chambers have appeared (for three different parties, including intervening professional bodies) before a seven member panel of the Supreme Court in R (on the application of Prudential PLC) v HMRC and a nine member panel of the Supreme Court in Bank Mellat v Her Majesty’s Treasury (No. 2).
Numerous members of chambers have gone on to hold high judicial office. Undoubtedly the most eminent was Lord Bingham KG, who served as Master of the Rolls, Lord Chief Justice, and Senior Law Lord, and is widely regarded as the greatest English judge since the Second World War. He was made a Knight of the Garter, an honour in the personal gift of the Queen and one only very rarely conferred on judges. He was also the Visitor of Balliol and the High Steward of Oxford University.
Fountain Court is also proud of its historic and continuing academic links. The profiles of individual members are indicative of a strong intellectual and academic backbone to Chambers, with several Vinerian and Eldon Scholars and Martin Wronker Prize winners among its current members.
Lord Burrows was Professor of the Law of England in the University of Oxford and a Fellow of All Souls College and is now a Justice of the Supreme Court. Lawrence Boo is a Professor of Law at the National University of Singapore. Peter Watts KC is a Professor of Law at the University of Auckland. Dr Louise Merrett is a Fellow, Professor of International Commercial Law and Vice-Master of Trinity College, Cambridge. Stephen Moriarty KC, is a former Fellow and Tutor in Law at Exeter College, Oxford and a University Lecturer. Former members include Richard Hooley, Professor of Law at King’s College, London and Neil Andrews, Professor of Civil Justice and Private Law at Clare College, Cambridge.
In September 2014, Chambers opened a new office in Singapore’s financial district, in the Ocean Financial Centre.
Members to hold high judicial and other law offices include:
Peter Scott KC, Peter Webster QC, Peter Goldsmith KC and Tim Dutton CBE KC have all served as Chairmen of the Bar Council.
The builder who designed the buildings comprising the core of Fountain Court Chambers was Nicholas Barbon, one of the developers who rebuilt London as a modern city after the Great Fire in 1666. He succeeded in redeveloping the area that had been Essex House, and inspiring the new architecture and land use of the city.
In 1675, Barbon began developing the Essex Street area on the site of Essex House. He designed numbers 32, 33 and 34 Essex Street as terraced houses (which buildings today constitute the famous core of Fountain Court Chambers). These buildings had unusual staircases for their time: instead of being placed alongside the party wall, the staircases were built at right angles to the fronts of the houses with open wells for lighting. The proximity to the Royal Courts of Justice meant that residents of Essex Street tended to be lawyers or associated professionals.
34 Essex Street was inhabited by Sir Edward Ward (1638-1714), a Whig lawyer who defended Lord William Russell in his treason trial in 1683. Several Serjeants, including Sir John Chesshyre (1662-1738) who was the King’s Premier Serjeant, lived at 32 Essex Street. Later, Daniel Whittle Harvey, founder of The Sunday Times, lived at number 32. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Middle Temple bought numbers 32 – 34 Essex Street.
Today, they, along with numbers 35-39 Essex Street, house Fountain Court Chambers (of which only 33 Essex Street is not a listed building). The staircase in number 34 remains historically and architecturally significant and deserves special mention. Adorned with rich carvings, elaborate scrolls and sweeping flourishes, this particular staircase serves as a reminder of Nicholas Barbon and his celebrated contributions to contemporary London.
In the 1890s, Fountain Court was home to a number of well-known literary figures, including the poet W.B. Yeats. Amongst those to pass through its doors during this period were the illustrator and author Aubrey Beardsley; the writer and social reformer, Havelock Ellis; the young poet said to have inspired Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray, John ‘Dorian’ Gray; and the French Symbolist poet, Paul Verlaine, who wrote a poem on Fountain Court.
As for the fountain itself this has a history of changing with the times to adapt to current styles. Built in 1681, it may have been the first permanent fountain in London and could project water up to 30 feet high. Originally surrounded by wooden palisades, the fountain underwent several major renovations during the 18th -19th centuries resulting in a simplified stone basin with iron railings and stone steps. Withstanding centuries of alterations, the Blitz and a fire in the Inn, the fountain continues to sparkle for visitors to our Chambers. As Peter Ackroyd writes in London The Biography:
“On the perimeter of this circle lies Fountain Court, amid the buildings of the Temple; there has been a small fountain there for three hundred years, commemorated by writers as diverse as Dickens and Verlaine, while the softness and serenity of this small spot have been experienced by many generations. The fountain and its pool were once square-fenced with palisades, then encircled by iron railings, but now stand unbarred; whether in a square, or a round, or open on all sides, the fountain plays on, and its atmosphere has remained constantly evocative.”