Senior lawyers to consider discarding their 'archaic' wigs

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The Independent Online

Wigs and gowns, the most enduring symbols of Britain's justice system, may be discarded for use on ceremonial occasions under plans being discussed with Britain's most senior legal figures.

Wigs and gowns, the most enduring symbols of Britain's justice system, may be discarded for use on ceremonial occasions under plans being discussed with Britain's most senior legal figures.

The Lord Chancellor plans to discuss the future of "court dress" at a formal meeting this month with the heads of the legal community. They will discuss whether the practice of wearing wigs and gowns, used in British court rooms since the 18th century, should be modernised in line with practices in other countries.

The move comes as the new Speaker of the House of Commons announced his plans to dispense with ceremonial dress, including wig and tights, during debates.

Reform to court dress is formally on the agenda for the 14 November meeting between Lord Irvine of Lairg, the Lord Chancellor, and his "heads of division". Modernisation plans will be discussed with Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, and Lord Phillips, the Master of the Rolls, Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, the president of the Family Division of the High Court, and Sir Andrew Morritt, the vice-chancellor.

MPs have been calling for and end to the "archaic" and "élitist" dress code which they say is off-putting to people appearing in court.

"There is a clear public demand to abolish these court trappings," said Andrew Dismore, Labour MP for Hendon. "Wearing wigs is something that belongs in the 18th century. Judges say it preserves their anonymity but this is nonsense. The bulk of criminal justice is carried out by magistrates and they don't need to hide behind wigs.

"The decision of the Speaker to dispose with wigs and tights sets a good example."

The judiciary has already decided not to wear wigs and gowns during trials involving child witnesses because it may beintimidating. But many judges would see reform as an attack on the judiciary.

The Lord Chancellor is said by his aides not to see the future of court dress as a "priority subject". However, civil servants believe he is open-minded about whether to give judges and barristers more flexibility about dress.

A review of the criminal justice system, to be headed by Sir Robin Auld, a Lord Justice of Appeal, is expected to examine whether wigs and Latin tags have a future in Britain's courts.