Lord Chancellor's breakfast

The start of the legal year is marked with a religious service in Westminster Abbey in which judges arrive from the Royal Courts of Justice followed by a reception at the Houses of Parliament, hosted by the Lord Chancellor.

History

The ceremony in Westminster Abbey has roots in the religious practice of judges praying for guidance at the beginning of the legal term. The custom dates back to the Middle Ages when the High Court was held in Westminster Hall and judges would walk over to Westminster Abbey for the service.

Before the Reformation, during the 16th century, anyone taking communion was required to fast for some hours beforehand. Afterwards it became customary for the Lord Chancellor to offer the judges something to eat before they went into the High Court - hence 'breakfast'.

Present day

Today, judges still keep to the traditional ceremony but instead of the two-mile walk from the Royal Courts of Justice to Westminster Abbey, the judges now travel by car for the service conducted by the Dean of Westminster.

After the service, the Lord Chancellor entertains those present at a breakfast - a light buffet - to which the fully-robed guests proceed, on foot, from Westminster Abbey to the Houses of Parliament. The breakfast is held in Westminster Hall, or the Royal Gallery.

Service and guest list

The religious service includes prayers, hymns, anthems and psalms, with both the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice reading a lesson.

Approximately 600 guests attend both events, with a further 300 attending the breakfast. Guests include:

  • judges from England and Wales

  • senior judicial officers

  • the Law Officers of the Crown

  • Queen's Counsel (QCs)

  • overseas judges and lawyers

  • members of the European Court, and

  • Government ministers.

Judges and QCs wear full court dress, while others wear morning dress.

Disruption of ceremonies

The ceremonies have been held continuously throughout the years but were cancelled during the First World War years (1915-18), and only held four times between 1931 and 1953.

During the Second World War, the service had to be cancelled due to bomb damage to Westminster Abbey and was not held again until 14 October 1946. In 1953 the ceremony took place in St. Margaret's Church because the structures and decorations erected in Westminster Abbey for the Queen's coronation had not yet been removed.

Related Information

Lord Chancellor in the Commons

In June 2007, the Rt Hon Jack Straw MP was appointed Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice - becoming the first Lord Chancellor in history who is a member of the House of Commons, rather than the House of Lords.

Lord Chancellor's breakfast: 1 October 2014

Timetable of events

  • 10.30am - Guests start arriving at Westminster Abbey
  • 11.30am - Procession into Westminster Abbey
  • 12pm - Service begins
  • 12.40pm - Leave Westminster Abbey for Westminster Hall
Westminster Hall

Explore Westminster Hall in 1099 and 1400 in our 3D virtual tour: