Monday, 13 May 2013

First Division since .... way back when!

Goings on in the Court of Common Council at Guildhall Thursday 25th April 2013

I always try to attend the Court of Common Council held at least nine times a year on the third Thursday in the month. For one thing I know the Great Hall is open to the public before the meeting at 1pm and I can take a guided tour without worrying that access will be denied, and it is good to know about the goings on of the Corporation. This may seem rather dull but there is usually an interesting item to pick up on and always some banter, cynical, sarcastic and downright funny!

This particular Thursday was going to be very special indeed!  The signs were there.

Lady Mayoress Balcony on the right and the Press on the left.
Duke of Wellington Statue stands  in the middle
 The Lady Mayoress seated in the balcony reserved for her, and the second balcony also occupied by some Press .  Also an excited air permeated the hall and full of whispered conversations, plus not a seat to be had by the time the Lord Mayor and his retinue made their stately entrance.

Ward Elections had taken place during March and the newly-elected Members were being presented to the Lord Mayor. It was in  1444 the first recorded Common Councilmen took their place in Council; so today,  resplendent in their gowns of mazarine blue the newly chosen were taken individually by a member of their Ward to be introduced and then to take a seat within the Council. It was good to see many young (er) faces eager and smiling amongst the members of the Court.

Several long serving Aldermen were standing down, I do not know them personally but recognised the names from previous mentions, William (Billy) Dove and Sir John Stoddard to name two of them. They were given great praise and recognition for their work over many years and will be greatly missed.  Also the New Chief Commoner George Gillan (appointed for one year) was also welcomed as well as newly appointed Alderman Russell for Bread Street Ward.

For once I had a full set of papers, they are often good for a second glance later on, and especially good reading is the List of Applications for the Freedom, one that really stood out:

His Eminence, Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino (a Cardinal) Vatican City State
Proposed by Sir Gavyn Arthur (Citizen & Gardener)
Second Proposer His Excellency Anthony John james Bailey, KCSS (Citizen and Loriner)

Other applications came from Switzerland , Canada, Russia and Albania as well as throughout the British Isles.  In last month’s minutes Micklewhite commonly known as Sir Michael Caine, KT, CBE and Placido Domingo Hon KBE were noted as being admitted to the Freedom of this city by redemption. See separate page about the Freedom.

An important item on the Agenda was the Bill for an Act of Common Council regarding Aldermanic Eligibility.  Currently to be an Alderman you have to be a Freeman, member of a Livery Company, and a Justice of the Peace. The changes required are that another avenue is open to possible candidates other than becoming a JP which means they have to act as magistrates in court a certain number of times per  year, considered time consuming (although worthwhile) but interferes with their duties on City committees. Also there appears to be a rigorous examination and interview, which sadly more have failed than qualified recently.  Plus the fact that this is handled by the Lord Chancellor’s Advisory Committee, a Government department, and the Court of Common Council and its members are apolitical, so there is some contention here, that the Government should have the power to disqualify a possible candidate for Aldermanic duties. The other fear is, there will not be sufficient Aldermen moving through the ranks to qualify for Sheriff and hence lack of future candidates for Lord Mayors.

The argument ‘for’ and ‘against’ were numerous, against was the worry that it would undermine the quality of person being put forward, also the Lord Mayor also carries the title Chief Magistrate, so how can he maintain this title if he is not a JP?  The retort to this was, the Lord Mayor is also Admiral of the Port, and he was never a sailor! 

Those ‘for’ pointed out that the test of the magistracy today is ‘no longer fit for purpose’ and stops suitable persons from standing. Also run by a branch of Government; John Wilkes would have been appalled! (Sir John Stuttard MA).  Also mooted was that the electorate should choose the Aldermen and not the Advisory Committee as the City operates on democratic principles. The vote went for the Bill to be passed a second time and the majority agreed.

The bar (as in gate!) of the Court is closed
Members go about the business of voting
The Court ended in a Division, twelve members  stood up and refused to sit down and the Clerk had to call a ‘Division’, those ‘For’ leave by one door and those ‘Against’ by another, votes are cast and recounted.  The Court erupted into much chatter and activity until Council was ready to call the vote once more the Court came to order and settled down.  The Bill for an Act of Common Council : Aldermanic Eligibility was passed again and will be up for a third and final reading at the next meeting on 16th May 2013. I will definitely be there!

If you would like to know how a DIVISION works it's all here (Information from City of London Corporation):
14. Divisions 
(1) A Member demanding a Division must stand for that purpose. A Division 
will not be allowed unless 12 Members stand in their places to support the 
(2) If a Division is allowed, the Lord Mayor will ensure that two Tellers for the 
affirmative and two for the negative are appointed. If there are insufficient 
Members of the Court willing to act as Tellers, no Division will take place. 
(3) If a Division is allowed, the Town Clerk will ring the Division bell and at the 
expiration of three minutes he will ascertain whether a Division is still 
demanded. If so, the Bar of the Court will be closed after which no 9
Member may enter or leave the Court except for the purpose of recording 
his vote until the Division has been declared closed. 
(4) The Town Clerk will repeat the Motion and every Member then present 
and wishing to vote will cast his vote either for the affirmative or the 
negative (the Lord Mayor voting without leaving the Chair and having the 
right to a second, casting vote). The Ayes for the question will go through 
the Bar of the Court to the right of the Lord Mayor and the Noes through 
the Bar to the left, the votes being recorded at the respective exits.
Members will return to their seats through the central entrance. 
(5) Members wishing to abstain should remain seated and the Lord Mayor will 
seek confirmation of their intention before accepting a declaration from the 
Tellers that every Member wishing to vote has done so, after which the 
Bar of the Court will be re-opened and Members will return to their seats. 
(6) The Town Clerk will call for the Tellers’ reports and declare the result.


  1. If you want to learn more about the Freedom go to the Guildhall Library on 22 May 2-3pm to hear the Clerk of the Chamberlain's Court, Murray Craig talk about Sheep Across London Bridge & explaining the modern Freedom and what it means in the C21st. FREE

  2. Fantastic! This doesn't look like something I'd usually pick up but I will admit that the premise has gotten me intrigued!
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