Parliament: Justice Bill - Barristers' wigs face the cut in court reforms

THE ABOLITION of wigs in court and the end of the pre- eminent status of Queen's Counsel came into prospect yesterday when a Labour MP secured government agreement to introduce a series of amendments to the Access to Justice Bill.

The proposals offer the Government a compromise deal that also includes plans to establish a register of interests for judges.

Andrew Dismore, the solicitor MP behind the amendments, said they gave the Government the ideal opportunity to modernise other parts of the justice system. He said: "Queen's Counsel are an expensive anachronism working in the interests of the lawyers, not the public. Radical reform is needed or they should be abolished."

Lord Irvine of Lairg is unlikely to agree to the abolition of QCs, as one of Mr Dismore's amendments requires, but the Government could agree to the relaxation of court dress and a reduction in the use of QCs. The Lord Chancellor himself has complained of the ceremonial dress he must wear in the House of Lords. Solicitor advocates, who can now appear in the higher courts alongside barristers, have long complained that wigs allow the jury unfairly to distinguish between them.

This week Mr Dismore failed to secure answers to questions from the Government on the extent and cost of using QCs in government work. In written answers neither the Solicitor General, Ross Cranston, nor the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, were able to tell Mr Dismore how many QCs were used by their respective government offices.

A spokesman for the Lord Chancellor's Department said: "The Lord Chancellor has no plans to abolish QCs, which he regards as a kitemark of quality within the legal profession."