Category: Court dress

Quinns and Gowns – Contempt and Respect

Pillars at front of Four Courts, Dublin. Photo by William Murphy, infomatique, via FlickrA little late (because of the rebuild and ongoing redesign of the blog, on which all comments are gratefully appreciated) I want to focus on a busy week for the Irish Supreme Court. The week before last, not only did the Court have its full roster of hearings and judgments, but the judges of the Court also made a small piece of history by stepping out in new gowns. At the beginning of the last judicial year, the wearing of wigs by judges became optional, and most have since abandoned the horsehair. At the time, I posed the question, with wigs gone, whether a revamp of judicial gowns would be far behind. It wasn’t. As Dearbhail McDonald reports, fashion designer Louise Kennedy has designed new, simplified, judicial gowns. They were commissioned in 2009, but put on hold in 2010 for financial reasons, and have now been introduced at least at the level of the Supreme Court (more coverage: Irish Times | Sunday Business Post | As Dearbhail wrote (with added links):

New gunas for judges — now for real reform

… The new European style robes are more than a costume change — they mark a major (long overdue) symbolic break with the English tradition. … The new gowns are welcome, but their introduction pales in comparison with the widespread reforms needed in our courts. … New Chief Justice Susan Denham has argued for the introduction of a Civil Court of Appeal and specialist courts that would alleviate the burden of cases on the Supreme Court. …

(For the benefit of non-Irish readers, the word “gunas” in the headline is, I think, an attempt by the sub-editor at multi-lingual wordplay. The word “gúna” (pronounced “goo-nah”) is the Irish word for “dress” or “gown”; the plural in Irish would be “gúnaí”, pronounced “goo-nee”. The sub was plainly going for an aural link between “gown” and “gúna”, and thus between “gowns” and “gúnas” (pronounced, presumably “goo-nahs”). I’m not sure that the attempt at multi-lingual wordplay was all that successful, but never mind).

The simplification of judicial court dress is to be welcomed, but I would pause at this point. Court proceedings are serious matters, and some dignity and ceremony – including some formality of regalia on the part of court actors – are entirely appropriate (see Rob McQueen “Of Wigs and Gowns: A Short History of Legal and Judicial Dress in Australia” (1999) 16(1) Law in Context 31; reprinted Federation Press Digital Edition 2008). In many ways, they are symbolic of the respect to which the Courts and their orders are entitled. One of the new gowns’ first outings was when the Supreme Court handed down their judgments in Irish Bank Resolution Corporation Ltd v Quinn Investments Sweden AB, and others [2012] IESC 51 (24 October 2012), a case concerning contempt of court and the failure of three businessmen to respect orders of the courts.


Wigs, gowns, and sartorial expression

Sir Robert Megarry, by Anthony Morris, via the RP website
Sir Robert Megarry, by Anthony Morris, via the Royal Society of Portrait Painters website

At the beginning of the current legal year, Irish judges broke with three centuries of tradition, and ceased wearing wigs in court. On 13 October last, the Minister for Justice issued a press release stating that he had signed into law two new Statutory Instruments to make the wearing of ceremonial wigs optional in the courts. The Statutory Instruments came into force the following day, 14 October, just in time for the new legal term (Irish Times, here, here, and here). The making of the SIs was duly gazetted in Iris Oifigúil on 18 October (see (2011) 83 Iris Oifigúil 1417; pdf). Hence, the Circuit Court Rules (Judges Robes) 2011 (SI No 523 of 2011) and the Rules of the Superior Courts (Robes of Bench) 2011 (SI No 524 of 2011) dispensed with the requirement that judges wear ceremonial wigs in court. However, it is only this week, a full three weeks since the Minister’s press release, that the full text of the SIs became available online. (As I have asked many times before on this blog, why does it take so long for such important legal information as cases, SIs, and Acts, to be made generally available online?). Both SIs provide that:

A Judge shall not be required to wear a wig of a ceremonial type during [Court] sittings.

This is not quite a full abolition of the wig, as it does not prevent a judge who wishes to do so from wearing one. The development has been explained as part of a move to modernise the courts, though it has also been explained as an austerity move. Either way, the question arises: with wigs gone, will a revamp of judicial gowns be far behind?

So much for the bench. As for the bar, section 49 of the Courts and Court Officers Act, 1995 removed the requirement that advocates wear a wig in court, and section 117 of the Legal Services Regulation Bill, 2011 proposes to amend section 49 to include gowns as well, as follows:

A legal practitioner when appearing in any court shall not be required to wear a wig or a robe of the kind heretofore worn or any other wig or robe of a ceremonial type.

As with judicial wigs, this would make the wearing or not of wigs and gowns an issue for individual practitioners. In any event, formal attire isn’t always necessary in court. For example, in St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Diocesan Board of Finance v Clark [1973] Ch 323, Megarry J (pictured above) arranged a mock funeral in Iken in Suffolk to test how easy it would be to carry a coffin along an alleged right of way, and directed that neither he, nor the Registrar, nor counsel would be robed for the occasion:

Robes are convenient in normal circumstances as an indication of the functions of those engaged in the proceedings, and as enhancing the formality and dignity of a grave occasion. … But robes are not essential, … Jurisdiction is neither conferred not excluded by mere matters of attire or locality … ([1973] Ch 323, 333).


Televising the Supreme Court

Image of UK Supreme Court building, via Alex Faundez on flickrNo, not the Irish Supreme Court, but the new UK Supreme Court. There’s quite a lot of coverage in the UK media and blawgopshere today about the new Court at the apex of UK’s judicial system, which opens for business today, on time and on budget, in a refurbished former criminal court, after a difficult gestation. David Pannick argues in the Times today that, however unhappy its origins, the opening of a new Supreme Court is an important commitment to the rule of law. Much of the media interest turns on the fact that the Court will be televised. For example, one of the pieces in the Times is headlined that TV coverage means justice really will be seen to be done:

The reform has taken a number of steps over 20 years: a Bar Council report chaired by Jonathan Caplan, QC, in 1989, the filming of parts of the Shipman inquiry and the Hutton inquiry and the 2004 pilot project in the Court of Appeal all moved the issue of cameras in court forward. … The footage will be filmed and recorded by the court and made available by a feed to broadcasters, … [and] can be used only for news, current affairs and educational and legal training programmes.


Dress codes – who’ll be the judge?

Judge John Deed, from the BBC websiteI have already written on this blog about reforms to judicial dress in England and Wales (the image on the right is a well-known example of the previous judicial court dress). Now comes news that Ireland may follow suit. From today’s Irish Independent (with added links):

Fashion guru revamps judges’ robes

Fashion guru Louise Kennedy has been commissioned by the Chief Justice to create an unprecedented new range of designer robes for the country’s judges. Samples of the robes were unveiled last week by John Murray, the Chief Justice, during a judicial training day in Adare, Co Limerick. … it is feared that the cost of the inaugural judicial makeover could lead to the project, the brainchild of Judge Murray, being put on hold until the public finances improve. …

The last effort to change judicial attire occurred in the mid- 1920s when Hugh Kennedy — the first Chief Justice of the Irish Free State — sought to break from away from the English tradition by introducing an exclusive Irish range of robes. According to Judge Kennedy’s papers, there is correspondence on the planned design of judicial robes between Kennedy, William Butler Yeats and printmaker Charles Shannon. But the project did not attract political approval. …

I’m sure that the time has come for Irish judges to simplify their judicial dress, but I’m not sure I would go as far as the reforms across the Irish sea. I would phase out wigs, wing collars and bands, and the black coat and vest, leaving a streamlined requirement simply of a black Irish poplin gown over an appropriate dark suit. Moreover, I would have no objection to the idea of revising the design of the gown, though I will have to withhold judgment until (either) Kennedy’s designs are published. Moreover, if it happens on the bench, will the bar follow suit?

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 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. 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. (more…)

Wigs and Gowns on Judges and Barristers – Silly Anachronism or Necessary Solemnity?

Teddy bear in wig and gown, from pupilblogA few weeks ago, Pupilblogger wrote, of the barrister’s wig and gown:

I wore a wig and my gown in combat for the first time today. And the bloody tunic shirt with detachable collars, the wing collar and the bands.

Did I look and feel silly? You bet. I looked no sillier than any other barristers in court, of course, but they are at least used to it by now. …

Next year’s pupilbloggers won’t have to look quite so silly any more. I learn (via ContractsProf Blog and Concurring Opinions) that in England and Wales, the wearing of wigs, wing collars and bands by judges and advocates in civil and family courts, but not in criminal courts, is to be abolished from 1 January 2008, and that judicial gowns are to be radically simplified from the same date. Following a public consultation paper on court working dress, prepared in 2003 (html | pdf) but only released in June of this year, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers (BBC | wikipedia) took the decision to make life easier for pupilbloggers everywhere. He explained (from the press release):

At present High Court judges have no less than five different sets of working dress, depending on the jurisdiction in which they are sitting and the season of the year. After widespread consultation it has been decided to simplify this and to cease wearing wigs, wing collars and bands in the civil and family jurisdictions. While there will never be unanimity of view about court dress, the desirability of these changes has a broad measure of agreement.