• Robert Spicer

The Bear Garden

The Bear Garden

The index to the Civil Court Practice contains the following entry: “Bear Garden” lists.

The entry refers to the Queen’s Bench Guide 2000, paragraph 6.3: Listing before Masters.

The Masters’ lists consist of:

The ordinary list – short applications in Rooms E102 and E110 (“the Bear Garden lists”). Masters will sit each day at 10.30 a.m. in the Bear Garden to hear applications in the Bear Garden lists.

Masters deal with interim and some pre-action applications and manage the claims so that they proceed without delay. Short hearings only take place in the Bear Garden.

What is this mysterious place?

The apparent origin of this phrase in the legal context can be found in evidence given to the Common Law Procedure Commission in 1831 by Thomas Lott, an attorney:

The rule office on the first day of term is a perfect bear garden and where there has been a great pressure of business, and those dirty little holes, the judges’ chambers, much crowded, I have seen oaths administered through the window to deponents in the courtyard, and persons excepting to bail compelled to make their exit through a back window rather than encounter the crowd.

Dickens refers to Judges’ Chambers, then situate in the Rolls Gardens, and vulgarly known as the “Bear Garden”

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a bear garden as a place set apart for the baiting of bears, a scene of strife and tumult.

The position appears to be that unrepresented claimants appearing before Masters in the Queen’s Bench Division are consigned to a Bear Garden. The origin of this may be the chaotic nature of the place. In any event, how can it be acceptable to name a suite of rooms on the Royal Courts of Justice after a cruel and illegal practice? Perhaps it might be renamed “The Cockpit”?

The Bear Garden is clearly signposted in the Royal Courts of Justice. One might, unrealistically, expect some element of suppressed guilt, or at the least embarrassment, at this label. But no, there is a proud boast of this continued use of early Victorian metaphor based on a viciously cruel baiting of animals.

The Bear Garden is a suite of rooms and antechambers, richly carpeted and decorated, at the far reaches of the Gothic temple known as the Law Courts in the Strand.

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