Off the Cuff: Dress Code shocker as HMP Belmarsh seeks to ban visiting lawyers from wearing cufflinks

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By Will Buckley on

First they came for our cufflinks… bar appalled at what might be banned next


In a development likely to trigger tremors in robing rooms the length and breadth of the land, HMP Belmarsh have announced they will turn away barristers who have the downright nerve to show up wearing cufflinks.

In so doing they are showing a cavalier disregard for a barrister’s right to dress as he or she pleases in order to best ply their trade.

Cufflinks have traditionally been an important weapon in the get-ahead lawyer’s armoury. John Mortimer, barrister and creator of Rumpole, always recommended wearing a large pair of cufflinks in order to catch the light and, more importantly, the jury’s eyes. And once a case has been won employing such a tactic then barristers — notoriously superstitious when it comes to dress — are loath to dispense with a pair of ‘lucky links’.

A number of etiquette experts have even gone so far as to claim that cufflinks are the new shoes when it comes to making a first impression. And the range of subliminal messages that can be conveyed via a strategically selected cufflink is substantial.

A quick trawl of the internet revealing the popularity of cufflinks demonstrating one’s allegiance to a particular Inn of Court and ones stating ‘guilty’ and ‘not guilty’ or ‘sue’ and ‘settle’. The fact that there are buy three get one free offers available if you buy a pair of cufflinks from each Inn strongly suggesting that the sharp lawyer will choose their links to suit their judge.

The criminal bar is, perhaps understandably, concerned that things can only get worse. The links ban is seen as being the thin end of a very long wedge and once the floodgates are opened it is likely that tie links, armbands, fob watches, collar studs and solid silver stiffeners will all be prohibited.

A criminal barrister, who asked not to be named, said:

The public simply do not comprehend all the constituent parts that make up a barrister’s uniform and allow him to perform of his best. The fact that there has been an Oscar for best costume design since 1948 demonstrates the importance of looking good in order to convey one’s message. As they teach you at drama school: ‘you have to look the part to be the part’.