Tradition of barristers' wigs goes on trial

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The Independent Online
BARRISTERS COULD lose the right to wear wigs in court, depending on the outcome of a review of the 18th-century custom launched yesterday.

The Bar Council is to take the unprecedented step of consulting barristers and the public as to whether wigs should go. The results will be given to the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, who will decide whether to end the practice.

Jonathan Hirst QC, incoming chairman of the Bar, said yesterday that the consultation was part of efforts by barristers to "modernise the Bar".

Some barristers say the horsehair wig is uncomfortable and makes them look out of touch. Solicitor advocates - solicitors who have same rights of audience as barristers - say the fact they do not wear wigs puts them at a disadvantage with juries.

Mr Hirst, who is to replace Dan Brennan as Bar leader, suggested that change might not come soon. "Previous surveys have found strong public support for the wearing of wigs by barristers, especially in criminal courts," he said. "It adds dignity and solemnity to court proceedings."

A spokesman for the Lord Chancellor's Department said the Government would need to see strong support from the public and legal profession before it agreed to abolition. But the Law Society said it was time to act: "As solicitor advocates don't wear wigs, neither should barristers."

Mr Hirst, in his inaugural speech, promised to speed up BarDirect, which broadens access to barristers' services.