Campaigners bid to block development plans that would ‘devastate’ Inner Temple library

Online petition launched, but so far signatures are sparse

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A grassroots campaign has been launched to battle the Inns of Court establishment over radical plans that will allegedly devastate Inner Temple’s historic library building.

An online petition was kicked off last week in protest at a move of the inn’s big wigs to convert much of the 15th century building into a modern meeting space.

According to the campaigners, in a bid to generate revenue Inner Temple’s executive committee has recommended radical redevelopment plans for the creation of an educational and training space at the library that would be hired out on a commercial basis.

But, say the petition’s organisers, the flashing pound signs in the committee’s eyes have obscured its common sense. The protesters maintain that if the plans go ahead, “the effect on the library will be devastating”.

According to the petition:

The library’s entire upper floor and gallery will be converted into meeting rooms, offices and an auditorium for education and training. Half of the Library’s main floor will be lost to storage, equipment, lifts and stairs to a new fourth floor extension.

Opponents to the scheme went on to maintain that nearly 60% of the floor space will be lost, while half of reader spaces will be demolished. In addition, they claim that 25,000 books from the main part of the library and in everyday use will be displaced. And the library will completely shut down for 18 months while the builders are in.

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The Inner Temple library — which is situated at the heart of the inn — opened in 1440 and is considered one of the finest law libraries in the world. Anti-development campaigners maintain it provides “a free invaluable service to practitioners and students alike and serves a core charitable function of the inn”.

It is also considered to be “a masterpiece of library design with its double-height galleried rooms mentioned in Nikolaus Pevsner’s Buildings of England”.

But traditional law libraries around the country are under threat as increasing digitalisation of information means a reducing reliance by lawyers and students alike of print books and therefore shrinking space requirements.

City law firms are known to be moving their libraries into the digital age, which means reducing their size and converting space into meeting areas.

However, according to the Inner Temple campaigners “there is no need” for the proposed evolution. They claim the inn’s bosses have unreasonably discarded a better option that would be “significantly cheaper [while providing] a whole new floor, which includes a lecture theatre, training rooms and meeting rooms above the existing treasury building. This has minimal impact on the library”.

The petition aims to attract 1,000 signatures, yet so far it seems as though the Inner Temple grey beards don’t have too much to worry about; as of this morning, the campaign had gathered only 94 names.

That despite the opponents’ emotional appeal.

Please do not let this happen on your watch. We owe it to existing and future practitioners to safeguard the jewel in the Inner Temple crown.

You can sign the petition here.

Inner Temple declined to comment.

9 Comments

Jack of Kent

There is a wider point about well-stocked and spacious law libraries; they are effectively a public good, not just a private good for the lawyers involved, and their value is easy to understate.

Something will be going up on JoK on this on or around 1 September…

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Not Amused

It’s not often I agree with DAG but he is right on this.

The Inns have been collectively flailing around a bit with their charitable status under threat (que them all coming on to nervously reassure us that ‘there is no such threat, never will be, never can be la la la’).

It seems to me that one of their key charitable aims (education) ought to be providing free law libraries to the nation. These are definitely needed given the reduction in legal aid. But more than that, citizens of a democracy really should have that access.

This move by inner will just generate more cash. More cash i’m sure to go to scholarships. But let’s be honest, giving money in vast quantities to private equity is not charity in any real sense of the word. Far better to provide an actual, national, charitable need.

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Pupil

Last I checked, weren’t there big signs on the door to the Inner Temple Library expressly stating that it isn’t open to members of the public?

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Not Amused

First of all, signs on doors are not magical defences. The Inn libraries are all used by non members because no one checks (and even if they did check there is no security).

But most importantly, I said they ought to be open to the public. As in, my entire argument was that instead of excluding the public, the inns should start actively admitting them. I argued that was a true charitable purpose.

I am used to people not reading what I write, but if you are a pupil, I really do expect you to at least scan my text before you decide that I must be wrong.

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Anonymous

Are the staff supposed to twiddle their thumbs or take an imposed sabbatical for the 18 months during which the library will be closed?

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Student

The petition has clearly gathered momentum since this post and, judging by the comments I’ve read, there a lot of people (me included) that think the plan is ill-thought out vandalism which will cause a loss of something valuable; both in terms of the building and the knowledge and skills therein. Let’s hope the whole plan is scrapped and the plotters find something better to do with their time.

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