Tag Archives: wigs

A Plea From the Wig Party

Okay, I admit it. In a perfect world lawyers would not wear wigs in the 21st Century. There was a time when I imagined we would wear silver foil suits and ride hover boards to court but I guess I will just have to settle for iPads and that mythical beast “Court Wifi”. 

Actually I should rephrase that. In a perfect world there would be no need for lawyers and courtrooms. Everyone would live a blissful, law abiding life in perfect harmony. But the history of humanity has never known such Utopia and never will. There is a reason why the Ten Commandments mainly ban things – some humans have a tendency to do bad stuff. Always have, always will. 

So I suppose I should, instead, acknowledge that if we were to start with a blank sheet of paper and design a criminal justice system for the 21st Century wigs would not feature. Unless you were writing a steampunk version of the Criminal Justice System…..but I digress.

Why would wigs not feature? Mainly because, starting from scratch, nobody would even begin to suggest wigs. They are a feature of the CJS by accident and tradition. Even I, apparently ardent cheerleader for my wig, would not invent wig wearing. 

So the call goes that we should scrap them. They are anachronistic. They are alienating. They are an impediment to justice. They reek of class division. They cause disease. (I may have made that last one up, but the rest are a rough summary of the various arguments against the wig). 

And I admit defeat. The anti-wig brigade win. I will lay down my wig…..but only if we are doing everything for the same reason, with the same intent. Come on people, don’t just focus on the wig.

Out should go the Royal Coat of Arms in every courtroom. I am sure a surfeit of rampant lions may dampen the market but the coffers of the MoJ could be swelled by an appearance on Cash in the Attic when we clear out the high backed leather chairs and the other adornments in the Court buildings. 

Judges will have to go to. I do not mean the actual Judges. But their titles, they are just so feudal. No more addressing “Your Honour” or “M’Lud”. Just plain old “you”. And no more “Her Honour Judge X” or “Mr Justice Y”. I suppose we will still have to call them Judge, as a title, but it will be Judge X (Crime). Or Judge Y (Higher Crime). Of course we will have stopped calling it the Crown Court. It it will just be the Manchester Criminal Court (Juries). 

And everything will have to be on the same level. Preferably a bit more “open plan”, but definitely all on the same level. Less “imposing” that way. No more difference between Bench and Bar. Just everyone in a bit of a semicircle. Whilst we are at it, and I appreciate that this is no impediment to justice, can I make a personal plea for more comfortable seating?

So we can all sit in a courtroom designed by IKEA and have a chat. More tearoom than courtroom I guess. Having taken some of the natural gravitas away I suggest we are going to need a bit more security. So each room is going to need a properly trained, physically fit and well equipped security officer. Plain clothed, naturally. 

I do have a bit of a “red line” though. This is a definite regulatory matter. If we have ditched the wigs and the gowns we need a dress code. Bare minimum requirements are a total ban on cartoon character ties (unless we are going all Match of the Day and going open necked, I mean ties are a bit of a throwback aren’t they?), strict rules on hair colour (perhaps the Judge can have a colour chart, cherry red is acceptable but purple is not?) and a set of strict regulations on visible piercings, tattoos and Mohicans (by which I mean the hairstyle, and not Daniel Day Lewis). 

The more I think about, the more we are going to have to be a bit more presciptive about it. What happens if one lawyer (we have scrapped the terms solicitor, barrister, counsel and advocate) has bagged themselves a bargain suit from Jaeger on Black Friday? That might come across as a bit “fatcat” unless they leave the price label on it. No, no. That won’t do at all. So it will have to be something a bit more bland yet approachable. Blue button down and chinos? Advocacy (sorry, my language slipped there and got a bit anachronistic)…. lawyerly arguing …. brought to you by Gap. 

Of course all these changes will do little to alleviate the crippling delays that beset the Justice system. They will make great strides in increasing access to justice in those cases were the under resourced police have managed to catch the offender. And they will make the ordeal of giving evidence more palatable, if the Judge (Crime) has not kicked the case because the CPS have not served the evidence. And of course the public will have a greater respect for the participants in a criminal trial as their shirt and chino combo will overcome years of politicians telling them lawyers are blood sucking leeches. 

Actually, I have changed my mind. Until such time as we get to grips with the real problems that beset the CJS, I may just hang on to my horsehair head warmer. 

Getting Wiggy With It

I am very fond of my wig. Not just because I am bald. Not just because it has been with me for twenty-two years. I am very fond of my wig because, whilst it has never saved my life, it has got me out of a tight spot or two.

When I was quite junior I spent many months as the second prosecution advocate in a large conspiracy. The two trials lasted over many, many months. There were Silks involved, there was a fearsome judge and there were some proper villains. When I say “proper villains” I mean not just people on the wrong side of the law, I mean proper stop-at-nothing types. The sort of villains Guy Ritchie gets all misty eyed about. 

The main man had a brother. The brother also fell into the category of “proper villain”. The brother saw me every single day of each of the trials. A few weeks after the guilty verdicts I found myself in the middle of Manchester, standing right next to said brother. I froze. 

“I know you, don’t I?” he said. 

My reply, amongst the stammers, was a cross between “I don’t think so” and “I hope not.”

“Yeah I do. Someat to do with our kid? Did I meet you at one of his parties?” he continued.

I assured him that he did not know me and then, in the style of a News of the World reporter in a brothel, made my excuses and left. He, of course, did know me. My face was incredibly familiar to him. But without the wig it was difficult for him to place me. My daily disguise had done its job. 

It is not the only time. I had a man grip my arm in a restaurant corridor and talk about how he knew my face, knew that I was, like him, connected and that I was someone who should know to show him respect. What he did not realise was that I had prosecuted him a few months earlier. 

There are times and circumstances when wigs and gowns should be removed. Appropriate accommodation made for the young and the vulnerable (having said that, when I introduce myself to young witnesses I often find the wig and gown is a great ice breaker) but otherwise I am very much in favour of them. 

The Crown Court is a very different beast to the Magistrates’ Court. Not better than, but different. We tend to spend longer with the participants of a Crown Court trial. The stakes tend to be higher. You can spend a whole day or more cross examining a witness. 

“We get on without them in the Mags” is not an answer to whether robes should be retained in the Crown Court. 

And barristers in private practice are different to solicitors in private practice. We prosecute. (And yes, I know that solicitors prosecute some work for some agencies but I am talking about the routine prosecution of serious crime.) I value highly the anonymity my wig gives me. I really, really do. 

That anonymity stretches to the jury. Good Crown Court advocacy in an even contest between skilled advocates  is directed at the case being about the evidence, not being about the advocate. The wig and gown is a uniform. It creates uniformity. And it means that the jury do not draw a personal affiliation to one side or the other due to some clue from their appearance (which is why an advocate should not have medals, badges or ribbons on their gown or even a poppy on their lapel).

These are some of the reasons why I support retaining robes. There are others. There are, naturally, arguments against. These should be debated. Part of that debate, however, should NOT include the idea that the Bar want to retain robes as it is a throwback to public school boys wanting to dress up. 

I have seen exactly that said, more than once. Now, I do not take offence at this terrible and lazy stereotype. I am not angry that, as a comprehensive school educated person, the idea that all barristers are, or consider themselves to be, toffs is ridiculous. 

I can assure you all that my university days were not spent dressing fancy, eating swan and initiating myself with a pig. The only drinking club at my uni was the Squash Club. And it was a club where you played Squash (the university being Aberystwyth, which prohibited pubs opening on a Sunday so the only place to get a drink was the private members Squash Club which had two courts and went out of business shortly after a referendum allowed Sunday boozing). 

Categorising the importance that some at the Bar place on robes as being a product of their public school backgrounds is, well, a bit like suggesting solicitors are only good for conveyancing and drafting wills. 

As the debate seems to come around once more about robes those participating should, perhaps, consider whether there are greater challenges facing the CJS than they way we dress and, perhaps, should consider that a lazy stereotype does not take the debate very much further. 

I like my wig. It is my uniform and invisibility cloak in one, itchy, horsehair contraption. Long may State educated school boys and girls aspire to wear them doing State funded work.