Our history: The roots which still determine our culture
As we celebrate the tenth anniversary of the merger of 25 and 30 Park Square, David Orbaum takes a moment to reflect on the origin of Sovereign Chambers….
The 1920s: Pale & male or not at all
Back in the 1920s, in an era when it was very difficult for minorities and women to join many clubs and institutions, the Bar (to its eternal shame) was no exception to this sorry state of affairs. It was a privileged exclusive profession dominated by the privately educated, affluent and traditional elites in society.
Westminster Bank Chambers
Alter Max Hurwitz, an Orthodox Jew with an excellent academic pedigree, managed to obtain a pupillage in Leeds but could not secure a tenancy. Undeterred, he set up his own chambers, Westminster Bank Chambers, above the Westminster Bank in Park Square, which came to be known (not always affectionately) as the Jewish Chambers. His ethos was straight out of the Old Testament – “So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the Land of Egypt “ – Deuteronomy 10 :19. He not only welcomed his coreligionists but minorities from all sections of society who were shunned elsewhere. He was joined by a Prince of the Raj, Peter Das, who had experienced similar prejudice.
The chambers grew in strength over the years, initially dominated by its Jewish members (including Alter’s son Vivian, Arthur Myerson, Harry Ognall, Geoffrey Rivlin, Paul Hoffman and Louise Godfrey, all of whom reached the highest levels in their profession as Queen’s Counsel and Judges).
The 1970s & 1980s
I had the good fortune to join Westminster Bank Chambers in the late 1970s. We were a happy and diverse group of 12, unlike any other in the square – Peter Das was still practising; the brilliant but eccentric Lionel Scott was head of chambers; and the majority of us were state-educated Northerners (quite unlike the public image of the stereotypical barrister).
The welcoming, inclusive and friendly tradition continued into the 1980s and beyond, when the chambers was among the first in the region to admit a Black member.
Nowadays, Sovereign Chambers has grown to over 50 members. It continues to follow the tradition established by Alter Hurwitz all those years ago, by selecting its members fairly and objectively, on merit – regardless of sex, religion, racial origin, social background, or sexual orientation. This diversity enhances its approachability and ability to provide well-grounded advice in the modern era.
When I returned to the Bar in 2010 after a long spell on the other side of the profession, I had no doubt that it could only be to Sovereign. Its lively, sociable, mutually supportive, informal and quirky atmosphere is quite unique. After years in the wilderness, rejoining Sovereign felt like coming home.
If you were alive today, Alter, I am sure you would be proud of your legacy.
– DAVID ORBAUM