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'.
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
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.
(Photograph by Deryc Sands)