Hardwicke to become Gatehouse Chambers due to newly discovered slave links

updated on 18 June 2021

A well-established set in Lincoln’s Inn, Hardwicke Chambers, is set to change its name to Gatehouse Chambers because the “history did not sit comfortably with our values”, said Brie Stevens-Hoare QC, joint head of chambers.

Despite being a progressive move, the change has received backlash from Justice Minister Lord Wolfson QC, who suggested the move was a distraction from fighting genuine racism. He argued that if we all were to follow this logic, then Lincoln’s Inn and Gray’s Inn would also have to be renamed. The name change was inspired by Black Lives Matter peaceful protests in Bristol, which escalated in a slave trader’s statue being torn down and thrown into the harbour. The protesters used ropes to pull down the bronze statue of Edward Colston, a prominent 17th Century slave trader – its presence has caused controversy in the city for many years.

In a press statement, Hardwicke Chambers said: “Lord Hardwicke was one of two authors of the Yorke-Talbot opinion in 1729 which was relied on by slave owners as providing legal justification for slavery for many years.

“The premises of Hardwicke Building, named by Lincoln’s Inn, became the name of the chambers who have occupied it since 1991.”

The leading set admitted they had failed to investigate the background of Lord Hardwicke before adopting the name with the building in 1991: “It is not something we had thought to do and it is a regret to us,” Chief Executive Amanda Illing acknowledged.

Once the chambers discovered the links to slavery, which was bought to light by a group of legal bloggers investigating historical legal figures, prompted by the Black Lives Matter protests, its members decided to change the name to reflect the “inclusive and diverse nature” of their people and clients.

Hardwicke Chambers will be known as Gatehouse Chambers from next month. The new name distances itself from any history of slavery, with hopes to signify “strength and trustworthiness, but also access to new adventures and opportunities.”

PJ Kirby QC, joint head of chambers says: “It’s not about paying lip service to this issue but truly living out these values and that’s why changing our name was an important decision for us.”

It is a proud moment to see the legal profession taking a bold stance following what was an emotional year for ethnic minorities and leading by example regarding how to be better allies in the face of racism.