Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Back to school

For most of us, today was the first day back in court after a four-day Easter break. Maybe it's partly because the sun was shining outside, but there was a real gloominess about the Crown Court I was in, just like the beginning of a new school term. As well as chatting about what we'd been up to over Easter and general robing room gossip, there was some discussion about reported plans to abolish wigs in civil, family and commercial proceedings. Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers (the Lord Chief Justice) has declared that they contribute to the public perception that lawyers and judges are out of touch. Wigs and gowns will, however, continue to be worn in criminal cases. Obviously it doesn't matter whether or not people unfortunate enough to become involved in either side of the criminal justice system think that lawyers and judges are out of touch!

I have mixed feelings about court dress. On the one hand, robes are another thing to carry around and in summer are not the most comfortable thing to wear. In one of my recent forays into the civil courts a judge decided to dispense with robes, which I quite liked. On the other hand, they do help maintain anonymity to a certain, albeit limited, degree. I've been told several times by clients who see me without my wig and gown on that they barely recognise me. Also, wigs are a great leveller. When you're two minutes' call and up against somebody who's been at the Bar longer than you've been alive it somehow helps that you're dressed the same - not just because it improves your confidence but because it improves your client's confidence in you. It's quite difficult to be taken seriously by some old lags when you're a fresh-faced young thing (oddly, this is a problem I've experienced less and less lately) and wearing a wig definitely helps.

On balance, I'm in favour of keeping wigs and gowns. I know that tradition alone is not a reason to hang onto something pointless but once traditions are dispensed with there's no going back. And for all that they're old-fashioned and odd-looking, wearing a wig does mean you don't have to make any effort with your hair in the morning and if that isn't a good reason to keep them, I don't know what is.

12 comments:

Mr Beagle said...

Reminds me of that bit in Withnail and I:

Danny: So there's this judge sitting there in a cape like ******* Batman with this really rather far out looking hat.

Withnail: A wig.

Danny: No man, this was more like a long white hat. So he looks at The Coalman and says, 'What's all this. This is a court man. This ain't fancy dress.' And The Coalman looks at him and says, 'You think you look normal, Your Honour?'. **** give him two years.

x

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