Life at the Bar · Qualities Required

Wigs (Updated)

The public want us to keep them, so we probably will. I can’t say I get terribly excited about this and I voted to get rid of them in civil cases, largely because I find the whole outfit so uncomfortable. I suspect that if they went, within a couple of months, no one would remember what it was like to have them. But like Beafteaters uniforms and the changing of the guard the public approves of traditional British customs – of which we are now one. Which is fine – if expensive. It will be interesting to see what the Judges do now. Having announced that they are changing outfits it might be difficult not to go the whole hog, but as the House of Lords already wear suits whilst barristers appear robed it should not present an insupperable problem.

However, solicitor advocates should now be permitted (and perhaps obliged) to wear wigs. The distinction is simply unjustifiable and sends a message about presumed competence from which the Bar should disassociate itself. If a solicitor advocate isn’t up to the job then we can demonstrate it by our superior performance. Or not. Otherwise we should go the whole hog and large Court Centres should have a ‘worst advocate of the week’ competition and make the winner wear a large hat with ‘D’ on it…

While I am at it, the same goes for a refusal to call solicitors ‘my learned friend’, substituting ‘my friend’ instead. These are courtesies, denoting nothing. But if they are going to be used then the discrimination says more about the barrister insisting on it than the solicitor to whom it is applied. If one wants to be that pernickity then one shouldn’t call the solicitor ‘my friend’ unless they are, and one shouldn’t call the barrister ‘my learned friend’ unless you believe it. Given how the Bar can square up in a tense moment, most of us would be choppwould like ing and changing the designations of our opponents throughout a trial of any length.

I would like to welcome the Lord Chief Justice as a reader of this blog. I can’t be certain of it but he has just announced:
“The Lord Chief Justice will hand down a practice direction before the Christmas vacation to permit solicitors and other advocates, as formally defined in s27 (9) of the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990, to wear wigs in circumstances where they are worn by members of the Bar.
The practice direction will come into effect on 2 January 2008.”

Anyway, it’s a possibility. So watch the Ps and Qs or go anonymous. I am assuming that Mr Pineapples is anonymous, but I shall check the Bar List just in case 🙂


28 thoughts on “Wigs (Updated)

  1. I think that G K Chesterton summed it up in his piece “Some Policemen and a Moral”:

    “English are always boasting that we are very illogical; there is no great harm in that. There is no subtle spiritual evil in the fact that people always brag about their vices; it is when they begin to brag about their virtues that they become insufferable. But there is this to be said, that illogicality in your constitution or your legal methods may become very dangerous if there happens to be some great national vice or national temptation which many take advantage of the chaos. Similarly, a drunkard ought to have strict rules and hours; a temperate man may obey his instincts.

    “Take some absurd anomaly in the British law–the fact, for instance, that a man ceasing to be an M. P. has to become Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds, an office which I believe was intended originally to keep down some wild robbers near Chiltern, wherever that is. Obviously this kind of illogicality does not matter very much, for the simple reason that there is no great temptation to take advantage of it. Men retiring from Parliament do not have any furious impulse to hunt robbers in the hills. But if there were a real danger that wise, white-haired, venerable politicians taking leave of public life would desire to do this (if, for instance, there were any money in it), then clearly, if we went on saying that the illogicality did not matter, when (as a matter of fact) Sir Michael Hicks-Beach was hanging Chiltern shop-keepers every day and taking their property, we should be very silly. The illogicality would matter, for it would have become an excuse for indulgence. It is only the very good who can live riotous lives.”

  2. Re ‘my friend’

    I was in the High court in the Strand today and my opponent managed to f*ck up my fee note. He was an arse. but I did manage to wind him up by calling him ‘my Friend’ rather than ‘My lerned Friend’

    Imagine being confused with a Solicitor-Inadequate. He was silently furious. It was *almost* worth having my fee-note castrated.`

  3. Why should solicitor advocates now start to wear wigs? Why do they need them to demonstrate they are just as competent as us?

    It is part of the Bar’s history and not just a mark of competence. Or are solicitor advocates so unsure of their skills that they must dress like barristers now?

    They should be proud that they passed their exam in advocacy and not start to pretned they are barristers. Let them stand and be proud without stealing our clothes.


  4. GL – you can find another wind up.

    Mr P: come off it. That comment comes down to ‘Why should we let them dress like us?’ Competence should not be equated with how you dress – that makes representation all about us and it should be about the client. I don’t believe you would feel happy about prosecuting someone represented by a solicitor and using that point in your final speech. And if you wouldn’t make it expressly, you shouldn’t imply it either.

  5. Since I’m still to start pupillage (although one is in the bag, and I’m not an oily student by the way, I’ve had another career first), the great unspoken tragedy of this whole debacle is that people who’ve just started their pupillages are currently faced with spending the best part of a grand, wearing the blasted kit two or three times, then binning it or giving it to noisy nephews to play at being Minister for Magic. It should be kept just so I get my money’s worth.

  6. Yes Simone – that is my very point – and ironically you have put it for me.

    Competence does not come from how we dress – so why should we let those second raters dare wear our clothes?

    It’s about HISTORY.

    Let them invite their own garb. On a postcard please: the garb to be worn by solicitor advocates.

  7. Thanks for the sex-change. My wife has always wondered…

    If it was really all about history then we would be wearing the special linen tunics of our Saxon ancestors. Advocates wear wigs. What type of advocate you are shouldn’t make any difference. If you want to introduce a distinction based on being second-rate it should apply to all.

    But I like the idea of the postcards and I will publish really funny ones.

  8. This may be off topic, but if the Bar has voted NOT to be rid of wigs, how will it react if and when it’s asked as a body for its thoughts on increasing equality and diversity?

  9. Equality and diversity eh? It’s rather heartening to see the “50 year old pupil” and “usefully employed” (both having secured pupillage) above leaving comments. Late starters it seems Minxy, just like you and me! L2B 🙂

    BTW, I have no strong feelings either way about wigs. As Catherine Tate would say, “what-e-veerr”…

  10. Oh No …the solicitor advocates are now going to get wigs. This will mean that there is going to be an absolute avalanche of these people signing up to take their piddly exam so they can pretend they are barristers….and wear the garb we struggled so hard to obtain: first class honours, BVC and the incredibly tough pupillage lottery…and then the vote for tenancy. That’s the struggle I had anyway; and I had to get a First to get in right at the start. Not boasting; just bleedin’ annoyed.

    All I should have done is get a 2:2, done the LPC and joined Bill Blogs & Co Solicitors on the High Street, done the advocacy course, get the certificate and the badge and Whey Hey…gimme my wig….my mum will be so proud.

    I blame Rumpole for this.

    This is an end to the Bar…..

    Solicitor Advocates lack the independence of the Bar…and are usually led by the nose by the Partner in charge of litigation: “do as you are told or you are out….don’t you disagree with me….or here is your P45”.

    It’s an absolute joke.

  11. I have just returned from an excellent afternoon of jazz at the Bollo.

    It is always a pleasure to read blogs after a few glasses of Rioja. I’m with Simon on this one – and, of course, I have no vested interest 🙂

    I have found that my and views on life and my, albeit limited professional area of expertise, works just as well whether I wear a suit or a Kimono.

    If The Br wishes to maintain the status quo – it is hardly a matter of great importance compared to the very real issues we face in terms of prison places, independence of the Judiciary, reform of the profession, the implications of neuberger et al…

    I could go on !

  12. How can one tell if the council for the opposition is a barrister or a solicitor-advocate if they both wear wigs?

    Perhaps an ignorant question?

  13. No – a particularly good question. Mr P would doubtless say that the solicitor advocate would clearly not be as good. And I would say that if you can’t tell the difference, what’s the problem?

    For those of us at the Bar, the job is to make it clear that we offer an expertise in advocacy that makes us a safe choice. It should be easy to spot us and if it isn’t, we’re failing.

  14. Hey Charon – the very real issues of prison places, independence of the Judiciary etc..are just not that important when compared to global warming, Zimbabwe, Darfur etc…and the almight enormous astroid making its way towards us.

    Why bother with anything eh?

  15. From a student perspective (and as a student who wants to go to the bar)
    I see the problem as this.

    If both are able to wear wigs then the general problem will be with the general public would it not? With no distinction of who is wearing a wig and not, then both may be considered as barristers. If you cannot tell who is a barrister and who is not, it may reflect potentially badly on the Bar.

    Those who have taken the solicitor advocate route, and those who have taken the bar route, however both ending up wearing the gear. The general public therefore may be including the solicitor advocates as barristers, or classing them all together.

    It does seem important to me to distinguish the two, not because of belittling the other side with “my friend” but the actual legal route counsel has chosen and not to let the general public mix them up.

    It is quite clear by the media’s representation who is the barrister and who is the solicitor, the barrister wears the dandy wig and gown. Now mixing the two it seems to me that now the general public will only be able to notice on the competence of their advocacy. Now I have always thought that the right to advocacy and to show that you have special expertise in litigating/advocating etc was shown by wearing a gown and wig (stupid I know however I’m sure that some barristers take pride in wearing their wig, to show that they have earned or installed some pride in themelves.

    If you can’t tell who is who by the wearing of special garments etc and both are doing the same or a similar job then maybe it is time for a reform?

    That is if the general public actually have an interest in such things, I should doubt it, they are more concerned with how unjust the legal system is.

  16. Personally, I think the issue is one that is blown out of all proportion.

    If you were to ask a member of the public a) if they knew the difference between a solicitor and a solicitor-advocate, I doubt there’d be much in the way of any flicker on interest. And b) if they knew the protocol of wig wearing, and name calling (fits better than terms of address!) in court for barrister, solicitors etc. then again I think the response would be similar.

    The bar has a rich history. The nature of the Bar has changed immensely in the past 20 years, and whilst personally I am against solicitor-advocates in principle I don’t find the concept too abhorrent.

    I personally see no problem with the current status quo. The terms of address are one area where I’m surprised that over time there has not been a distinction in the method of addressing a QC as opposed to a junior, but that said I see no reason why solicitors should suddenly lose their own form of recognition. I see it as no slur to omit the word learned, indeed I think one reads too much into it to do so.

    I think the Bar, and the judiciary for that matter, have much more important things to be concerned with than wigs and gowns.

    I mean if you again asked the man on the street if they care about whether a judge wears different robes in the summer or winter, or wears purple instead of red, or wears a sash etc. most people will care little.

    I think there’s been enough erosion of the legal system in this country recently and a sharp increase in problems with the legal system; so to spend time worrying about wigs, and who gets to wear them, and who gets called what etc. seems petty.

    Just leave it as it is! (I phrase every skeleton argument should contain!)

  17. Man in the street? All he is concerned about is beer and who wins Celebrity Come Dancing.

    Dont regard the man in the street as the fount of all knowledge

  18. Simon,

    Whilst I do not think the issue of basrristers wearing wigs is too crucial, do you not contradict your own Editiorial in supporting moves which break down distinctions between solicitors and barristers. By that I mean punters who want ‘proper lawyers with wigs’ to think they are getting a barrister when they are in fact getting a solicitor. This could be particularly important with the advent of HACs and legal aid reform. As costs are cut, it is likely that standards will be too.

    Solicitor advocates will not necessarily be less competnent than barristers, but they will not be independent-soemthing about which you wax lyrical in your opening.

  19. “Man in the street”, seems to be the most appropriate terms as one of the issues seems to be public engagement with the judicial system etc.. I think that removing wigs, or adding them, or changing forms of address does little to actually help public engagement.

  20. Mr P,

    The man in the street may not be the fount of all knowledge, but he is still the man waiting to catch the Clapham Omnibus…..

  21. I find it quite disturbing that this topic gets twice as many replies as “Neuberger” and “Root and Branch” put together. Priorities!

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