Why do judges in Britain wear wigs?

When watching an episode of John Deed, I notice that in the courtroom both the judge and the lawyers wear wigs. Why is this practice still practiced in English courts, and what is its significance?

Asker: Ande, 65 years old

Answer

Dear Ande,

Indeed, in Britain (and in several Commonwealth countries), wigs are still widely worn in court, both by judges and by ‘barristers’ (not ‘solicitors’, the other class of British lawyers). The wig functions as a symbol of office. One theory about the historical reason for the wearing of wigs by judges and lawyers is that it provided a measure of anonymity and therefore protection. Interestingly, recently judges will only wear wigs when they hear criminal cases and no longer in civil and family cases.

According to an article in The Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/may/13/law.fashion), there are two motives for the measure: to save costs, but also to create the impression that judges out of touch with normal life. The article also mentions that the ‘barristers’ were expected to follow suit, but have not yet done so, because they still strongly believe in wearing traditional clothing, including a wig.

Sincerely,

Anne

Answered by

Dr. Anne Meuwese

Constitutional law Social scientific study of law European, Dutch and English law European, Dutch and English politics

University of Antwerp
Prinsstraat 13 2000 Antwerp
http://www.uantwerpen.be

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