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Off with their wigs!

British judges now look more like their American counterparts in civil courts.

As of Wednesday, the wigs and the elaborate robes, wing collars and collarettes that many of them wore are no more. The judges will be bareheaded and wear a plain black robe with small bits of color to designate the level of the court.

John Mortimer, the barrister and author of the “Rumpole of the Bailey” books, was among those who opposed the changes.

“The idea’s ridiculous! A barrister without his wig would be like a doctor without a stethoscope,” he wrote in a newspaper article when their elimination was first proposed. Reuters reports that a poll showed court personnel are much more attached to the wigs than the public.

Like Mortimer, Christopher Breward, the acting head of research at the Victoria and Albert Museum, sees little to recommend the change, likening the simplified robes to “a colour-coded overall” in an op-ed piece for The Times of London.

Rumpole will not be immediately affected by the change because judges and attorneys will continue to wear wigs in criminal court. The Brits value uniformity in the appearance of criminal attorneys, lest the Crown or a defendant be disadvantaged because one of the attorneys has a more stylish tie or better-tailored suit.

The Lord  Chief Justice, Lord Phillips, ordered the change because, in his view, the wigs and elaborate robes were an anachronism that gave the public a false impression of judges.

By Alan Cooper

One comment

  1. I have heard about this broiling controversy before. Older attorneys (who like the wigs) were telling the younger attorneys (who wanted to ditch them)….”you don’t yet understand the value of not being recognized by people in the street!” There’s something to be said for that point depending on how the case turned out.

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