Thursday, August 16, 2007

The End of Wigs?

On 12 July 2007 the Lord Chief Justice announced reforms to judicial dress in court. The changes will mean that Judges in civil cases only wear a simple gown and no wig. It is suggested that advocates should follow suit, wearing only the existing gown and no wig, wing collar or bands.

The desire to modernise the profession is entirely understandable. It is concerning, for example, that the public perceive that barristers are out of touch with the population. Wigs and gowns are already put aside for small claims hearings and increasingly for fast track trials (although this depends on the practice of individual courts). In the circumstances it is natural to ask whether it is time to sweep aside formal court dress altogether.

The suggested reforms have, however, already proved controversial, with members of the judiciary reportedly writing to the Lord Chief Justice to object. Wearing full robes, they say, is not only a long standing tradition, it also has practical benefits. It makes it easy to distinguish advocates from ushers and other court staff. Putting on the robes helps barristers themselves to take on the role of the advocate. Clients after all do not need to be friends with their barrister, they need sound objective advice and representation.

In the wake of the Lord Chancellor’s announcement, the Bar Council has opened a consultation on court dress. From past experience, this is an issue that excites strong opinions on either side of the debate. Whatever your views are, this is an important issue for our profession and I hope that many people are able to take the time to respond to the consultation.

Aidan Ellis

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