1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Doctors' Commons

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DOCTORS’ COMMONS, the name formerly applied to a society of ecclesiastical lawyers in London, forming a distinct profession for the practice of the civil and canon laws. Some members of the profession purchased in 1567 a site near St Paul’s, on which at their own expense they erected houses (destroyed in the great fire, but rebuilt in 1672) for the residence of the judges and advocates, and proper buildings for holding the ecclesiastical and admiralty courts. In 1768 a royal charter was obtained by virtue of which the then members of the society and their successors were incorporated under the name and title of “The College of Doctors of Law exercent in the Ecclesiastical and Admiralty Courts.” The college consisted of a president (the dean of Arches for the time being) and of those doctors of law who, having regularly taken that degree in either of the universities of Oxford or Cambridge, and having been admitted advocates in pursuance of the rescript of the archbishop of Canterbury, were elected fellows in the manner prescribed by the charter. There were also attached to the college thirty-four proctors, whose duties were analogous to those of solicitors. The judges of the archiepiscopal courts were always selected from this college. By the Court of Probate Act 1857 the college was empowered to sell its real and personal estate and to surrender its charter, and it was enacted that on such surrender the college should be dissolved and the property thereof belong to the then existing members as tenants in common for their own use and benefit. The college was accordingly dissolved, and the various ecclesiastical courts which sat at Doctors’ Commons (the Court of Arches, the Prerogative Court, the Faculty Court and the Court of Delegates) are now open to the whole bar.