the Irish for rights

Judicial Wigs and Gowns

New English judicial robes, via Slaw; as the image has been moved somewhere else on the official UK judiciary websiteI wrote a little while ago about plans for most civil in England and Wales to cease wearing wigs, wing collars and bands, and to wear radically simplifed judicial gowns. The change was to come into effect from 1 January 2008, but it was postponed until 1 October because because an insufficient number of gowns had been made in time. The revised deadline was met, and from this month, judges in civil and family courts will wear the new dark blue gaberdine robe with velvet facings (right). The colour – gold, red or lilac – of the strips of cloth under the chin (which to my eye recall the eliminated tapes) indicate the level of judge. The designs, by Betty Jackson, raised some controversy when they were first announced, but they seem fine (if unexciting, and distinctly civilian rather than alien) to me.

The change is part of an effort to modernise the courts and make them more accessible for the public, witness and litigants alike. This is an entirely commendable policy, but I wonder whether simply swapping one set of robes for another really is likely to have that effect. Moreover, if courtroom dress really does serve to exclude, and change is necessary as a consequence, then why only deliver partially? This new position has all the hallmarks of a compromise, ending up with change for the sake of change, rather than being driven by an underlying need. It means that there is a confusing variation across courts for judges and advocates, rather than a single simple rule relating to court dress.

Ireland, in fact, has quite a simple rule for judicial dress. Reflecting our common law heritage, Irish judges do indeed wear gowns, but they are simple ones. According to Order 119 rule 2 of the Rules of the Superior Courts, 1986:

The Judges of the Superior Courts shall on all occasions, during the sittings, including sittings of the Central Criminal Court, wear the following costume, namely, a black coat and vest of uniform make and material of the kind worn by Senior Counsel, a black Irish poplin gown of uniform make and material, white bands, and a wig of the kind known as the small or bobbed wig.

So, there is a common, and simple, rule for the judicial dress of all the judges of the High Court, the Court of Criminal Appeal, and the Supreme Court. And there is a similar simple rule for judges of the District and the Circuit Courts.

However, Irish judges still retain wigs, wing collars and bands, which the English reforms have begun to phase out, and it may very well be that the time has come for Irish judges to simplify their judicial dress a little more – to phase out wigs, wing collars and bands, and perhaps also to phase out the black coat and vest, leaving a streamlined requirement simply of a black Irish poplin gown over an appropriate dark suit.

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6 Responses to “Judicial Wigs and Gowns”

  1. Ronan says:

    Let us not forget that the UK also now allows solicitors and solicitor advocate wear wigs! http://www.hmcourts-service.gov.uk/cms/files/PD-Court-dress-3.doc

    There is little in the way of identification of the legal professions in the UK, this is something I do not agree with. I relation to judges. There was three types of robe for the judges: Red letter day wear, winter and summer terms. Simplification being the key.

    I feel that the traditions of the law should be maintained, wigs and all. Perhaps I am biased, but there are benefits to almost all of the garb!


  2. i think the issue with solicitors wearing wigs is very important. What matters is that the dress system is not used to inadvertantly or otherwise create ‘teams’ or ‘sides’ within the various professions.

    Maybe it would be helpful if

    – the judge wore black gowns
    – the defendants wore white gowns
    – the plaintiffs wore red gowns.

    That would certainly make things a lot clearer for the layman.

    I am only half-joking.

  3. […] Cearta.ie writes: I wrote a little while ago about plans for most civil judges in England and Wales to cease wearing wigs, wing collars and bands, and to wear radically simplifed judicial gowns. The change was to come into effect from 1 January 2008, but it was postponed until 1 October because because an insufficient number of gowns had been made in time. […]

  4. Antoin, I thought that was done already (except the red and white gowns as what would men wear?).

  5. […] have already written on this blog about reforms to judicial dress in England and Wales (the image on the right is a […]

  6. […] (update: and is covered by the Times here; I must say I much prefer their new gowns to those now being worn the UK’s other courts). The televising of the Court is one aspect of the range of […]

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Me in a hatHi there! Thanks for dropping by. I’m Eoin O’Dell, and this is my blog: Cearta.ie – the Irish for rights.

“Cearta” really is the Irish word for rights, so the title provides a good sense of the scope of this blog.

In general, I write here about private law, free speech, and cyber law; and, in particular, I write about Irish law and education policy.

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