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Celebrating 100 Years: Sergius Pelayo Triay & Helena Normanton

16.11.2022 | News

100 years ago today, on 17 November 1922, at a ceremony at the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple in London, Sergius Pelayo Triay was called to the Bar of England and Wales. With him was called his contemporary, Helena Normanton, the first woman to join an institution of the legal profession, the second woman to be called to the Bar of England and Wales, and the first woman to practise as a barrister in England.

Triay Lawyers joins in the celebration of Helena Normanton and 100 years of women at the Bar, and celebrates the life of SP Triay QC, grandfather and great-grandfather of the current generation of Triays at the Firm.

SP Triay QC

SP Triay was the son of John B Triay, a civil service clerk in the Port Department. He applied for admission to Middle Temple (one of the four Inns of Court that provided legal education and have the exclusive right to call people to the Bar) on 18 October 1919, following matriculation from the University of London earlier that year, and submitted reference letters from the then Port Surgeon and the Captain of the Port in Gibraltar. Mr Arthur Carrara, the founder of this Firm (appointed silk in 1923, the first such appointment in Gibraltar since 1885) provided a letter of introduction for SP to Mr D Campbell Lee, an American Barrister of the Inn.  SP graduated from the University of London with a Bachelor of Laws on 15 November 1922, and was called to the Bar of England & Wales two days later.

He then returned to Gibraltar and started his legal practice with Mr Carrara KC. He went on to develop a formidable reputation of his own, and was regarded by some as Gibraltar’s leading barrister. He took silk in 1951 in the first KC appointments to be made in Gibrlatar since Carrara’s own appointment in 1923. He was later joined in practice by his eldest son JJ Triay in 1949, upon which the Firm came to be known as Triay & Triay. SP’s son, JE Triay (later QC), joined his father and brother in practice shortly thereafter. All five of JE’s sons are partners of the Firm.

SP Triay was also an active politician and served on the Legislative Council for Gibraltar. He died in July 1954 after having suffered a heart attack following a lengthy debate in the Council. He was taken to his home in King’s Yard Lane, and passed away later that evening at the age of 52. His sons JJ and JE took over the Firm’s practice, expanding it further and developing excellent reputations of their own.

Helena Florence Normanton

Much has already been written by Helena Normanton, a feminist campaigner and woman of many firsts. She was academically brilliant and excelled notwithstanding her effective orphaning following the death of her father when she was aged 4. She was the first woman to be allowed entry into the legal profession, submitting her application to the Middle Temple on Christmas Eve 1919, within 48 hours of the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act.

She was, in 1922, the second woman to be called to the Bar in England, and the first woman to practise as a barrister. She was the first woman to obtain a divorce for a client, the first woman to lead the prosecution in a murder trial, and the first woman to conduct a case in the United States. She also fought for the right to retain her maiden name after marriage, and in 1924 was the first married British woman to be issued a passport in her maiden name. In 1949, together with Rose Heilbron, she was appointed the first female King’s Counsel in England and Wales. She was an activist to the day she died, fighting tirelessly for divorce reform, education, against social inequity and against the atom bomb.

In law, she faced numerous challenges from her professional colleagues who fabricated rumours to damage her legal career. Not only did she challenge and overcome these rumours, she made it a point of being a mentor and sponsor to other women who wanted a career in law, often accepting them into her chambers. It is thanks to the work of Helena Normanton and the other trailblazers of her age that we can now celebrate 100+ years of women in law.

Photos & Records

Our thanks to the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple for providing us with some of the records reproduced in the photos below. In the photos you will see:

  1. A portrait of SP Triay QC.
  2. A photograph of Helena Normanton.
  3. A photograph of SP Triay QC with his son JE Triay.
  4. Order of Middle Temple Parliament dated 17 November 1922 that the persons listed be called to the degree of the Utter Bar.*
  5. Call Signature Book showing the signatures of SP Triay (9) and Helena Normanton (15). The signatures marked with a star are the signatures of the first 9 women to be called to the Bar by the Middle Temple*
  6. SP Triay’s Bachelor of Laws with Honours Degree Certificate from the University of London, 15 November 1922.
  7. SP Triay’s Call Certificate, 17 November 1922.
  8. Letters Patent constituting and appointing SP Triay to be One of His Majesty’s Counsel for the City and Garrison of Gibraltar (King’s Counsel), 31 January 1951.
  9. SP Triay’s Application for Admission to the Middle Temple, 18 October 1919,* including:
    1. Reference letter from Commander Henry Biron, Captain of the Port and Justice of the Peace for Gibraltar, 7 October 1919, with endorsement from D Campbell Lee, 16 October 1919.*
    2. Reference letter from the Port Surgeon, 7 October 1919.*
    3. Certificate from the University of London showing that SP Triay had passed the Matriculation Examination of the University, by which he was qualified for admission to the Inns of Court, 16 October 1919.*
  10. Various press cuttings.*

*Provided by the Middle Temple.


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