Irvine says wearing wigs in court is out-dated

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The horsehair wig, which has been the traditional headgear of judges and barristers for hundreds of years, has no place in the modern civil legal system, the Lord Chancellor – Lord Irvine of Lairg – said yesterday.

Lord Irvine called for the abolition of wigs in all civil proceedings and asked judges in the legal profession to begin consultations on his proposal.

He said: "The time has come for barristers to stop wearing wigs in court because it seems to me that wigs are an anachronism, which we as a society stopped wearing in the 18th century." Lord Irvine added that once barristers had stopped wearing them he would be "most surprised" if judges did not follow suit.

Lord Irvine explained that it was his experience as a lawyer working in multimillion pound arbitrations, where there is no formal court dress, which had informed his view that wigs served no useful purpose in civil proceedings.

However, he said that the wig still served an important purpose in criminal courts where there was a much greater need for "solemnity and anonymity". The retention of wigs in criminal courts will upset solicitors who work in the Crown Court, who have long argued that they are at a disadvantage to the wigged barrister.

Yesterday, a spokesman for the Law Society said "wigs are a relic of the past" and should be abolished in all cases, including criminal trials. Last night, the Bar reacted angrily to Lord Irvine's call for the abolition of wigs in civil cases.

However, the Lord Chancellor said that the gown and bands worn by lawyers and the judges' robe should be retained as they maintained the "dignity" of court proceedings.

Responding to media reports that he was to stand down from his office well before the next election, Lord Irvine said that he had made no such decision and described such suggestions as "creative fiction".