Hot Courtrooms Are Good For The Mind
Ever wondered what life in the law is really like? Ever thought you would get the
opportunity of reading something written by a lawyer without being charged?
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
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
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
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
- It appears 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 formality 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.