Cabby courts an air of authority and proves power of wig and gown
Thursday 20 August 1992
Lawyers and judges may be justified in their reluctance to cast off the wigs and gowns, abandoned by other professions two centuries ago. While some may think court garb ridiculously outmoded, Joe Criminal apparently believes curled horsehair and silk can transform dull mediocrity into a super Rumpole.
According to a survey 84 per cent of defendants feel more confident when a barrister dresses up. Barristers and judges too, it seems, feel happier when hiding beneath wigs and gowns.
According to a consultation paper, issued yesterday on behalf of the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice, it is not simply about disguising the bald head, the thickening girth or incompetence. There is a serious issue of security. Australia reintroduced wigs in family courts after two judges were later recognised by litigants and shot.
As well as protection from identification, other sticklers for tradition argue that wig-wearing is a great leveller, blurring age, sex and race differences, while giving the court dignity and authority.
Against that argue the reformers - who include Lord Taylor, the Lord Chief Justice, who has the task of restoring public confidence in the courts - ancient dress indicates outdated attitudes and undesirable elitism. It is intimidating to witnesses, juries and defendants. Another argument is the cost to the taxpayer in allowances to judges for their fur and finery. (Barristers pay all their bills).
The judge's short court wig alone costs pounds 690 towards which the taxpayer contributes pounds 635; the court coat and waistcoat pounds 825. When they start donning their ceremonial silk stockings, breeches and lace, costs run into thousands. Silk stocking cost pounds 15 a pair, and the long 'full-bottomed' wig pounds 1,590. Gold-laced ceremonial robes used by Lords Justices cost at least pounds 8,000. Turning out Lord Mackay, who as head of the judiciary wears the finest of robes, costs even more.
With yesterday's consultation paper he and Lord Taylor are inviting comment from everybody - from judges to villains.
Early signs are that the garb - described by Lord Richardson in the Lords as 'insanitary, scratchy and extremely hot' - may stay, despite most of our European partners having adopted less formal attire. A survey of all court users by Counsel, the journal of the Bar Council of England and Wales, found 79 per cent in favour.
At the Bar opinion is divided. George Carman QC, famed for courtroom skills most recently seen in the Jani Allan libel trial, is an abolitionist.
But Gilbert Gray QC, for keeping the uniform, said: 'The Lord Chancellor's department should busy itself with much more important considerations - like paying its bill to counsel on time.'
High Court and Circuit Judge, and Queen's Counsel Court coat, waistcoat pounds 825
Sleeved waistcoat pounds 240
Breeches pounds 240
Stockings pounds 15
Court shoes, buckles pounds 135
Lace stock (jabot), cuffs pounds 52
Short bar (QC only) pounds 339
Full bottomed (CJ) pounds 1,590
Short bench (HCJ) pounds 690
Leading article, page 26
- 1 BBC told new political editor must be 'impartial' with Nick Robinson reportedly stepping down
- 2 Humans of New York image of crying gay teen receives best response yet from Ellen DeGeneres
- 3 Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
- 4 Motorists taunt suicidal woman on bridge and tell her to 'get on with it'
- 5 The map showing the most dangerous tourist destinations in Europe, according to the Foreign Office
BBC told new political editor must be 'impartial' with Nick Robinson reportedly stepping down
Isis propaganda video shows 25 Syrian soldiers executed by teenage militants in Palmyra
Humans of New York image of crying gay teen receives best response yet from Ellen DeGeneres
Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
The map showing the most dangerous tourist destinations in Europe, according to the Foreign Office
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...
£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...
£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...