Here's one for you. To wig or not to wig, that is the question. As an indication of how mind paralysingly tedious the legal profession can be some times, there is currently a heated debate about who should be wearing wigs.
What Kind of Question is That?
The obvious answer to the uninitiated might be, "Those lawyers whose are follicularly challenged." Not so. For some time now Barristers (or collectively the Bar)have defended their exclusive right to wear a horsehair wig as part of their court dress. I am sure everyone is familiar with their look but what is their purpose.
We are all equal (just some of us are more equal than others).
The purpose of the wig (and black batman robe) was to give anonymity to the advocate and to give gravitas to the court proceedings. For those that mock the appearance of advocates, try being cross examined for fifteen minutes by some bewigged, black robed nightmare. I guarantee that it's a least a two changes of underwear experience. Nonetheless, despite the early altruisms of equality, the wig cartel has now established itself.
Solicitors, Barristers - Who are these people?
In simple terms, a solicitor is the chap in a suit that you would consult if you had a legal problem. They operate from practices all over the country. On the whole they do quite a lot of work in the minor courts (i.e County Court, Magistrates etc) but they do not have the rights to appear in the High Court, Court of Appeal and House of Lords. Enter the Barrister who has all these rights and is usually engaged on the advice of a solicitor because the Barrister is very specialised in his area of law. Barristers wear wigs, solicitors don't.
Now let's just complicate this a bit further to see if you're following me. Solicitors can now (by dint of further study and examinations) obtain qualifications that allow them to appear in the higher courts and, in fact, do everything that a junior barrister can do.
However, they are not entitled to wear a wig.
What a difference a wig makes.
If we go back to first principles it seems that solicitors are being denied their right to the anonymity that a wig should provide. The question is why. Is the wig being used as a status symbol? Perhaps so, but in the scheme of things does it really matter? You see, increasingly large amounts of proceedings (particularly matters involving children) are being conducted without wigs and gowns. I for one applaud this. I have to say that this is not all liberal minded egalitarianism on my part.
Air-Con, Air Con, my Kingdom for Air Con.
I'm sorry to say that not many of the English and Welsh Courts have managed to get to grips with the concept of air conditioning. In these cases, wigs and robes are, effectively, a mobile sauna, worn, as they are, over a suit. Picture if you will the scene with the temperature reaching 24 degrees as you done your heavy black cotton robe and thick horsehair wig. It's heat exhaustion waiting to happen.
I suspect most people's view will be "Who cares". I can understand this but before those people shuffle off dismissing this issue entirely, remember:
- The wig was used to give anonymity so the advocate could prosecute his case without fear or favour
- It appear that the wig is now being used as a status symbol within the legal profession.
- It's really hot and uncomfortable
- It's damn expensive
What do I think?
In a nutshell, keep the robes and lose the wigs. This retains the formailty and uniform appearance and, in my view, gives you just as much anonymity as when you've got half a horse's posterior on your head.
I leave to you to comment on what you would prefer to see and to, perhaps, guess which branch of the profession I work in.