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Ode to the wig: Barrister pays tribute to his Harry Potter-style ‘invisibility cloak’

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At a time of high-profile opposition to legal headgear, one lawyer has gone public with his love for the horsehair

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A criminal barrister has gone public about the love he has for his wig — because it has wriggled him out of trouble outside of the courtroom.

Jaime Hamilton, a criminal barrister at Manchester set 9 St John Street, displayed his affection on his blog this week, proudly trumpeting:

I am very fond of my wig because, while it has never saved my life, it has got me out of a tight spot or two.

According to the Aberystwyth University graduate, the customary hairpiece has the properties of a Harry Potter-style invisibility cloak.

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Hamilton (pictured above), recalls a time when he bumped into a “proper villain” in the middle of Manchester, the brother of a defendant that he had prosecuted a few weeks earlier. Frozen in fear, the barrister was able to escape from the very sticky situation, all thanks to his horsehair. On his blog he retells the incident:

‘I know you, don’t I?’ he said. My reply, amongst the stammers, was a cross between ‘I don’t think so’ and ‘I hope not.’ ‘Yeah I do. Someat [sic] to do with our kid? Did I meet you at one of his parties?’ he continued. I assured him that he did not know me and then, in the style of a News of the World reporter in a brothel, made my excuses and left. He, of course, did know me. My face was incredibly familiar to him. But without the wig it was difficult for him to place me. My daily disguise had done its job.

Lawyers and judges began wearing wigs, originally made from powdered grey hair, in the late 17th century. Though seen as a typically British staple, wigs are still worn in more than 20 countries.

Barristers do not need to wear wigs in the Magistrates’ Court or the Supreme Court, and exceptions can be made in cases involving young or vulnerable parties or witnesses. In recent years, debate has stirred about whether these exceptions should be the norm, and wigs scrapped altogether.

Supreme Court justice Lady Hale has publicly opposed the role of wigs and gowns, her principal objection being that they are “men’s wigs”. She also fears that they may scare off wannabe lawyers from more diverse backgrounds.

Harry Mount, a barrister-turned-journalist, was very vocal about his dislike for the wigs — which cost well into the hundreds of pounds — describing them as “pompous, dirty, pointless, and itchy”.

But while Hamilton notes that there are some circumstances when wigs and gowns should be removed, he says:

I value highly the anonymity my wig gives me. I really, really do.

Hamilton, who stresses that he is not fond of his wig just because he is bald, explains:

The wig and gown is a uniform. It creates uniformity. And it means that the jury do not draw a personal affiliation to one side or the other due to some clue from their appearance.

He goes on to strongly resist claims that barristers are only in favour of keeping the wigs because they give public school boys the opportunity to dress up. He writes:

[A]s a comprehensive school educated person, the idea that all barristers are, or consider themselves to be, toffs is ridiculous… Long may State educated school boys and girls aspire to wear [wigs] doing State funded work.

And keen Tweeters have drummed up support for Hamilton’s sentiments. Matthew Bolt — a pupil barrister at Kent’s Maidstone Chambers, responded to Hamilton’s blog post with “hear hear!” While St Pauls Chambers’ Simon Myerson QC described the piece as “spot on”.