Wigs and gowns: is justice inferior in tribunals where fancy dress not worn?
Those who argue in favour of separate court dress for advocates – wig, gown and bands – must deal with the fact that there are no dress requirements in the employment tribunal or the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT). Can they seriously argue that the quality of justice in these tribunals is somehow diminished by the fact that lawyers wear normal clothes? How many miscarriages of justice have been reported from employment tribunals? These tribunals and the EAT deal with complex and arcane points of law, procedure and evidence. They can, in some cases, award millions of pounds in compensation. Can it really be argued that these legal discussions, or the quality of justice dispensed, are devalued because the advocates have no horsehair on their heads?
Lord Gifford argued in 1986 that wigs and gowns should no longer be worn. In his opinion, the wig and gown are intended to convey a message: that we, judges and barristers, are different and superior; that we have more in common with each other than with you, the litigants; that we practise a craft which you can never understand.
It may be of interest to note a recent case where an impostor barrister was unmasked by a judge who noticed that he was wearing a solicitor’s, rather than a barrister’s gown. It was not reported whether the quality of his advocacy was affected by this lack of dress sense