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ARLG London and South East group visit to Royal Courts of Justice 15 November 2019
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On the 15th of November 2019, Sergio Mislata visited the Royal Courts of Justice Library with a group of members of CILIP’s Academic & Research Libraries Group. This is an edited version of his report.

Outside of RCJ main entranceThe RCJ library is part of the Judicial Library and Services, which supports the work of the judiciary and court staff in England and Wales. It was created in 2004, and it is a library for judges only. But, before coming into existence as the RCJ Library, the library existed under a different name, with a different purpose and clientele. It was founded in 1882 as “The Bar Library”, a lending and reference service for barristers from the four Inns of Court, so they would not have to walk back and forth from their home libraries when they needed any information. The Bar Library was informally referred to as “the 5th Inn of Court”, and signs of its origins can be still found today on display. As we walk into the main room of the library, on the wall at the back, a large medallion lettered on the edge with the “Inns of Court Bar Library”  hangs from the top; the shields of the four Inns of Court are arranged in a circle inside the medallion pointing towards the centre. Below this medallion and on top of the fireplace, there is a 1907 oil copy of the fresco “Justice: A Hemicycle of Law-Givers”, painted by G. F. Watts between 1853-1859 in the North Wall of the Great Hall at Lincoln’s Inn. On the right side of the room, hang the shields of Gray’s Inn and Inner Temple, on the left side, those of Lincoln’s Inn and Middle Temple.  Information Services, which supports the work of the judiciary and court staff in England and Wales. It was created in 2004, and it is a library for judges only. But, before coming into existence as the RCJ Library, the library existed under a different name, with a different purpose and clientele. It was founded in 1882 as “The Bar Library”, a lending and reference service for barristers from the four Inns of Court, so they would not have to walk back and forth from their home libraries when they needed any information. The Bar Library was informally referred to as “the 5th Inn of Court”, and signs of its origins can be still found today on display. As we walk into the main room of the library, on the wall at the back, a large medallion lettered on the edge with the “Inns of Court Bar Library”  hangs from the top; the shields of the four Inns of Court are arranged in a circle inside the medallion pointing towards the centre. Below this medallion and on top of the fireplace, there is a 1907 oil copy of the fresco “Justice: A Hemicycle of Law-Givers”, painted by G. F. Watts between 1853-1859 in the North Wall of the Great Hall at Lincoln’s Inn. On the right side of the room, hang the shields of Gray’s Inn and Inner Temple, on the left side, those of Lincoln’s Inn and Middle Temple.  

Inside the RCJ library

Five or six librarians have been normally necessary to run the library, and some of them served for a considerable time: a father and son were librarians at The Bar Library at the same time at one point. The librarians’ salary would come from a fee paid by barristers. In 1995 this changed. The Lord Chancellor’s Department offered the library the opportunity to become part of the Department, and this was accepted. Apart from the Bar Library, there was, at the same time, another library in the building, used by judges and members of the public. In 2004 a consultation took place. The barristers decided that they did not have a particular need to carry on using the library. Judges, on the contrary, confirmed that they did. A swap took place then: the judges would use the main library together with court clerks, and barristers could still use the other library, together with the public if they needed it. This library was closed soon after, and so the Bar Library, now the Royal Courts of Justice Library, became the only library in the building, and that it is why in spite of its origins, it can only be used by judges and clerks; anybody else needing to use it must request access from the librarians.


The library holds 40000 items, 2400 of which are from the Historical Collection. By 2007, they stopped acquiring physical copies of some law reports for the library, because the main online legal databases were well-established by then. They have a comprehensive collection of law reports from Ireland, Scotland, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Canada, Europe, etc. Even if they have a subscription to the online version of Halsbury’s Laws of England and Wales, they have a complete printed collection updated periodically. They also keep a complete set of Halsbury's Statutes of England and Wales, available only in print. In their Reference Collection, you can find law dictionaries, legal abbreviations dictionaries and language dictionaries, together with current law reports and statutes. There is a textbook collection, organised following the Moys classification scheme.


The Historical Collection used to be kept in the basement, where some of the books ended up in damp areas. They were all moved one level up, to a group of rooms that receive the name of “Times Library”. They are called that because a set of very heavy bound copies of The Times newspaper that go from 1939-1977 are kept in the room by the entrance. Historical legal textbooks are of great interest because they allow judges to track the variations in a law throughout the years, as reflected in different editions of legal textbooks. Sometimes the smallest variation in a comma can open a law to reinterpretation. They have a collection of pre-1865 Nominate Reports which are of great historical interest. Before 1865 cases were reported by private court reporters and a large amount of inaccuracies and even inventions were found among them. This is highly problematic because other cases would be decided using these dubious reports as precedent. Because of this, the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting, which still exists today, was founded in 1865. Some of the older law report volumes in the Historical Collection are written in “Law French”.

The library spiral staircase
The library is located on the upper floor of the Royal Courts of Justice central building, above the Carey Street Entrance (opposite the Main Entrance). The library, like the rest of the building, is in a high Victorian Gothic Style, with impressive ironworks to be appreciated on the handrails of the mezzanine of the main room and the annex room (called the “Probate Library”), and on the spectacular metal spiral staircase in this room. A majestic wooden ceiling lies above the visitor’s head in the main room, with chandeliers replicating an original model hanging from it. It is no wonder that the library is regularly used for the filming of films and television shows.

The RCJ Library has a branch in the Rolls Building, in Fetter Lane, next to the Maughan Library. This building houses the combined business, property and commercially capability of the Chancery Division of the High Court, the Admiralty and Commercial Court and the Technology and Construction Court. The collections of the library reflect the nature of these courts.

The group greatly enjoyed the visit and thanked the Library manager Stephanie and other staff for a very interesting and informative tour.

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