Serjeant-at-law (Ireland)

This is a list (presently incomplete) of lawyers who held the rank of serjeant-at-law at the Irish Bar.

The first recorded serjeant was Roger Owen, who was appointed between 1261 and 1266, although the title of serjeant itself is not recorded in Ireland until 1388. In the early years of the office an appointment as serjeant might be temporary, and might cover only a part of the country.

The duties of the Serjeant-at-law

In contrast to England, for many years there was only one Serjeant-at-Law in Ireland, who was known as the King’s Serjeant or simply Serjeant. In 1627 another office holder was appointed, and they were known as the Prime Serjeant and Second Serjeant. In 1682 a Third Serjeant was appointed. In 1805 the Prime Serjeant became known as First Serjeant.

Until the nineteenth century, the need for three serjeants was often questioned, especially as the office of Third Serjeant was often left vacant for years. It seems that Third Serjeant was created simply as a form of consolation prize for Sir John Lyndon, the first holder of the office, who had been passed over as both a High Court judge and as Second Serjeant, and that no particular duties attached to the office. Certainly Sir Richard Ryves, the Recorder of Dublin, was able to combine that notoriously gruelling office with the position of Third Serjeant, and later Second Serjeant, which suggests that he was not greatly troubled with overwork in his role as Serjeant. Alan Brodrick, 1st Viscount Midleton, who was removed from his office of Third Serjeant in 1692, complained about his dismissal, but admitted that in his two years in the office he had almost no work to do.

The position was extremely lucrative. Although in theory the salary in the 1690s was fixed at £30 a year, it was well known that in practice the various prerequisites attached to the office brought it up to between £900 and £1000 a year, In addition to the serjeant's right to continue to take briefs on behalf of private clients.

The serjeants-at-law ranked ahead of the Attorney-General for Ireland and the Solicitor-General for Ireland until 1805, when the law officers took precedence.[1] From about 1660 onwards they were expected to consult with the Attorney General, and were discouraged from acting on their own initiative: in 1692 the Prime Serjeant, John Osborne, was dismissed for repeatedly acting in opposition to Crown policy.[2] From the 1560s on the serjeants acted as "messengers" to the Irish House of Commons i.e. they were summoned to advise the House on points of law, just as the High Court judges advised the Irish House of Lords. The role of messenger seems to have lapsed around 1740.[3]

In the eighteenth century the Serjeants often acted as extra judges of assize. Although the practice had its critics, it survived intermittently into the nineteenth century: Walter Berwick was Chairman of the East Cork Quarter Sessions from 1856 to 1859, while also serving as Serjeant.

No serjeants were appointed after 1919 and on the establishment of the Irish Free State the rank ceased to exist. The last surviving serjeant, Alexander Sullivan, moved to England where he practiced at the English Bar, and as a mark of courtesy was always addressed as Serjeant Sullivan.

King’s Serjeants, 1261–1627

Prime Serjeants, 1627–1805

First Serjeants, 1805–

Second Serjeants, 1627-

Third Serjeants, 1682-


  • Hart, A.R. History of the King's Serjeants at law in Ireland Four Courts Press Dublin 2000
  • John Haydn and Horace Ockerby, The Book of Dignities, 3rd edition, London 1894 (reprinted Bath 1969)


  1. Haydn, p. 590
  2. Hart pp.89–91
  3. Hart p.62
  4. Haydn, p. 591
  5. Haydn, p. 592
  6. Haydn, p. 593
  7. Ronan Keane, ‘Sullivan, Alexander Martin (1871–1959)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 23 Sept 2012
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