Nothing says "British" as the iconic white wig judges and lawyers wear during formal courtroom proceedings. While you might think that it's just in TV shows and movies where you can see a bunch of grown men wearing white wigs, members of the British legal profession continue to wear wigs and robes in the courtroom.
Read on to know why British lawyers continue to wear wigs.
Why Do British Lawyers Wear Wigs?
Wigs, formally called peruke, have been the court dress code in the United Kingdom since the 17th century for judges and attorneys to wear wigs. Legal wigs have been a part of the court dress code for over 700 years.
The wig is a traditional part of the barrister's uniform and symbolizes their status as a member of the legal profession. If a barrister doesn't wear a wig, it's considered an insult to the court.
There are several reasons why barristers continue to wear wigs:
1. It brings a sense of solemnity to proceedings.
Wigs bring solemnity to any proceedings, especially to a young barrister, because it levels the playing field against more experienced members of the legal profession. Physical appearance and tenure don't matter as much as wearing identical wigs and gowns.
Regardless of experience and tenure, barristers are looked upon by the judge and jury with equal recognition to deal with any case.
2. It reinforces the idea of anonymity.
The law is blind, and wigs reinforce this idea.
Like many uniforms, wigs are a sign of anonymity, a way to keep the person wearing them from being personally involved, and a way to show that the law is the most important thing.
Wigs are essential to the criminal justice system since barristers are independent lawyers who fight for an individual and present their case. They have no personal stake in the outcome of the lawsuit. The wig accentuates their anonymity, alienation, and estrangement.
3. It embodies the enduring and rich legacy of the law.
Wigs gradually went out of style in society over time. During the reign of King George III of England (1760–1820), most of society stopped wearing wigs except for a select few individuals. These individuals included bishops, coachmen, and members of the legal profession. Even so, wigs continued to be worn in court for hundreds of years afterward.
Yet, new court dress rules were implemented in 2007, and barrister wigs were mainly phased out. Appearances in the family or civil court and before the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom no longer required wearers to wear wigs. However, lawyers still prefer to wear wigs during legal proceedings.
Do Female Barristers Wear Wigs?
In several nations, female barristers do wear wigs.In the United Kingdom, male and female barristers are required to wear wigs in court proceedings. However, in the United States and other countries, wigs are generally only worn by male judges.
However, some female barristers still have the option to wear a wig in these countries out of personal preference or to express respect for the legal profession.
What Are the Names of Wigs Worn by Lawyers And Judges in Court?
Each wig design has a corresponding meaning. Here’s an overview of their meanings:
1. Judge Ceremonial or Full Bottom Wig
The conventional Judge Ceremonial or Full Bottom wig is entirely constructed of genuine horsehair. Judges wear this wig during ceremonial or exceptional events, such as the start of the legal year. It is curly and shorter than shoulder length from the top of the head to the bottom. The judges dress in robes and this full-bottom wig.
2. Judge Bench Wig
Humphrey Ravenscroft patented wigs in the 18th century, notably the "forensic wig." The curls on this kind of wig are fixed. Eventually, the judges wore a more condensed version of this wig called the "bench" wig. Judges continued to wear bench wigs for routine courtroom activities or regular court tasks. This wig is also made from 100% horsehair.
3. Barrister Wig
Barristers typically wear a "tie-wig," a 17th-century-style wig. This wig reclines from the brow, exposing the hairline. It is shorter in length. Barristers or lawyers who focus on criminal cases, courtroom arguments, and litigation wear this wig. Like the ceremonial judge wig and bench wig, the barrister wig is created from 100% genuine horsehair.
Today, the custom of judges and barristers donning wigs inside the courtroom has gained traction among the legal community and is seen as a sign of grandeur and respect. However, the remainder of the populace might view it as a source of entertainment or national pride.