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‘Wigs reek of privilege and exclusion… I cannot see the point of them’, says top QC

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Has horsehair had its day?

Barriters wigs gowns

A top silk has called on the barristers’ profession to do away with wigs, arguing the historic hairpieces “reek of privilege and exclusion”.

In a comment piece for the Mail+, Garden Court barrister Professor Leslie Thomas QC brands the horsehair wig a “ridiculous anachronism” that has no place in a “modern legal profession”.

The civil liberties specialist explains the itchy wigs are particularly uncomfortable during hot summer days in court and that the threadbare ones worn by some of his experienced colleagues — often seen as a “badge of honour” — can be a distracting to a jury. “I cannot see the point of them,” Thomas QC says.

Instantly recognisable to lawyers and laypersons alike, barristers have worn wigs crafted from horsehair since the 17th century. Humphrey Ravenscroft of Ede & Ravenscroft, one of London’s oldest tailors and court outfitters, patented a wig that is still in use today.

They’re not cheap either. A pupil barrister will fork out as much as £700 for their first wig, which according to Thomas QC, is “disconcerting to less well-off members of society who wish to enter the profession”. The experienced barrister also notes they’re not practical for certain cultures or religions and hairstyles — although he notes some barristers can receive dispensations from wearing them.

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Thomas QC, who was called to the bar in 1988 and took silk in 2014, also doesn’t buy into the argument that they help to anonymise lawyers. It “baffles me”, he writes. “[T]he wig doesn’t cover your face.”

There have been steps taken to modernise the wig in recent years.

Samuel March, a junior barrister at 9 King’s Bench Walk, developed what is believed to be the country’s first vegan wig after discovering none of the main legal dressers in the UK supplied them. Elsewhere, Doughty Street Chambers barristers Karlia Lykourgou and Maryam Mir launched a range of court-friendly hijabs for Muslim lawyers who struggle to find appropriate legal headwear.

Wrapping up his argument, the Garden Court barrister points to the highest bench in the land — the Supreme Court — and its lack of horsehair, and urges the profession to look at other jurisdictions such as Australia and New Zealand, where wigs are no longer part of day-to-day court attire.

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29 Comments

Junior junior civil barrister

Can we all just wait a f*cking minute until I’ve had the opportunity to wear this ridiculous thing at least once?

(145)(0)

Bare ‘n’ jiggy with the horse-hair wiggy

Actually, some Australian states still have the wig in daily use.

In Ireland wigs are optional (as they are for Solicitors Advocate in England) and tend to be more popular with men.

Bizarrely, wigs are most commonly found in Courts in former British colonies in Africa and the Caribbean. I would have thought they would have wanted to ditch them most of all. It would be odd if England ditched them while former colonies kept them.

(16)(2)

Australian barrister

The middle layer of courts wears them in Australia, not the local (county) courts and not the Courts of Appeal. In the highest court, the High Court, you wear whatever the highest court in your own state requires. It’s very inconsistent. Kids point and laugh. Everyone else is intimidated.

(3)(0)

Bob

in Australia it depends on the state. Wigs are very much worn in the intermediate (District Court) in NSW in both civil and criminal matters, other than at the whim of the particular judge. And we wear them in the Court of Criminal Appeal but not the Court of Appeal. And the Equity Division of the Supreme Court seem to love them.

I was in a recent directions hearing in a criminal matter in the Supreme Court. No witnesses, no jury, and the accused wasn’t even there. Out comes the judge in full Santa Claus gear having made sure we were all told to arrive fully robed, including wigs.

And face masks too at the moment.

(2)(0)

Bob

I wish I had only had to wear it once. Starting a long criminal trial tomorrow in hot humid weather in Sydney in an antique court room. I got over wearing a wig at work after about the second day many many years ago.

(1)(0)

Aspiring GDL Student

Barrister without a wig is basically a solicitor, right?

(18)(28)

Hackaforte

The rank hypocrisy of a QC, of all people, bemoaning something for being a ridiculous anachronism which reeks of elitism and privilege is pretty amusing.

How about the pointless postnominals which cost £2,280 to apply for, and £3,340 to actually get? Which has an appointments process which is, to put it mildly, a tad murky? And whose only real purpose is to bump up one’s hourly rates?

(63)(5)

Archibald O'Pomposity

Away with your whataboutery. And what silliness do you bring to this page with your argument that a QC cannot campaign to reduce elitism because they benefited from it? If the powerful and privileged cannot campaign for change for fear of being dismissed, then they won’t. Do you not understand this?

(12)(7)

Occasional traditionalist

I, too, cannot wait to see LinkedIn announcements proclaiming delight at being ‘called to the metaverse’…

(13)(1)

Top junior

They should be replaced with baseball caps and hooded sweatshirts.

(22)(2)

Anonymous

Are they compulsory?

(1)(0)

Anonymous

I can’t hear you, Mr/Ms Anonymous…

(21)(0)

AnonPILawyer

Feb 15 2022 2:53pm – totally underrated comment!

(3)(0)

Scouser of Counsel

Whilst personally I think that something akin to Jedi Knight attire (sans wig) would be comfortable and elegant Court attire, isn’t it ironic that less than three weeks ago the Chief Justice of Ghana issued a statement that Judges and lawyers will be sanctioned if they fail to wear wigs in court (seriously- Google it!)?

(12)(0)

Criminal junior

I have lost count of the number of times I have been told how different I look with my wig on/off. Equally, I am often shocked at how different others look with their wig on/off. They do create a sense of anonymity.

(22)(2)

Anon

We’ll have the dress up brigade coming along now, defending their right to look like Mozart.

(5)(7)

Modernist

As a civil practitioner I tend to agree. Get up early in the morning for trial in a far flung court, force myself to have breakfast (lunch can’t be guaranteed), remember to take my laptop, bundle, notes etc, do I have petrol? Think about the case itself. Step out the front door and then, oh yes, do I have my fucking fancy dress on the off chance that the judge insists on me wearing it?

(12)(3)

Junior junior

It’s the inconsistency of rules in the civil world that is most strange. I’ve seen multi-track county court trials with barristers fully robed, and other trials of the same kind where the barristers are in normal business attire.

(2)(0)

Chris

But all barristers wear them…if there’s an issue of privilege then that’s a wider debate about every to the Bar, the wig has nothing to do with it. Besides, it’s a symbol of tradition and standards and is a great leveller, like any uniform

(12)(3)

Anonymous

I take the view that given the wig’s historical tradition compared with the “modern legal profession,” wearing the wig could be optional, then everyone will all get along just fine.

(2)(1)

Willing Wig

Truth is if you made it optional, everyone that continues to wear it would look like an idiot.

(6)(5)

Billy BewilderWig

The funny thing is, in Ireland it tends to be younger male barristers who wear them.

The even funnier thing is that in English robing rooms you always hear younger barristers (of both sexes) saying how they want to keep them, whereas it tends to be the older ones (including silks) who hate them! You would expect it to be the other way round, wouldn’t you…? x

(10)(2)

“LHoC”

What is the current position on wearing medal ribbons in Court?

Asking for a friend?

(8)(2)

Luna

I think that if barristers still wear wigs, the police should still wear Bobby helmets and wear uniforms with shiny buttons!

(8)(1)

Creetcher

I think it would be highly amusing if teachers had to still wear mortar boards.

That’s basically what it’s like for barristers to have to still wear wigs in the 21st century, isn’t it?

(4)(1)

Buffton McTufton

I still think barristers don’t look properly dressed without a pocket watch on a chain.

It’s a pity court metal detectors killed them off (too fiddly to remove quickly during searches).

I wonder if the past pass system will mean they come back?

(3)(1)

fdfd

Leftoids want to wipe away anything which makes this country unique.

(10)(4)

Leftoid

Not unique to this country.

Countries where lawyers and judges wear wigs:

Australia (some courts)
Ireland (optional)
Kenya
Zimbabwe
Malawi
Ghana
Uganda
Nigeria
New Zealand (ceremonial occasions only)
Jamaica and most of the Caribbean Commonwealth.

(5)(1)

Giggle Wiggle

The debate was last had in 2008 and the outcome was:

The criminal barristers and Judges kept their wigs.

But…

In civil, in an effort to modernise, new “continental style” robes were introduced for Judges, with colour coded “built in” tabs.

Judges were ordered to wear them.

The trouble was, in many areas of the country, the use of wigs and gowns in civil had fallen out of use many years previously.

With the Judges now robing (without their wigs), counsel were obliged to robe (with wigs), so the ironic outcome was that a consultation aimed at modernising and reducing wig use in Court actually ended up increasing it.

(0)(0)

Comments are closed.

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