Why do British lawyers and judges wear wigs to court?

Why do British lawyers and judges wear wigs to court?

If you’ve been following the new Netflix series “Anatomy of Scandal,” you may have noticed that lawyers and judges wear white wigs similar to the 17th- and 18th-century aristocrats. But, the mini-series takes place in today’s time. And why are lawyers and judges wearing props, if not in the modern age?

To this day, professionals in many UK jurisdictions wear white horsehair wigs during sessions in British courts. For them, it is like part of their “uniform”.

White horse hair wig for lawyers in London, England

Image: AFP

Because it was so anachronistic, many lawyers decided to abandon its use in the 1820s. Nevertheless, they were formalized into English common law in the 1840s.

These days, civil and family courts, the UK High Court and even the Scottish Court of Session do not require holders of the law to wear the ornamentation. But some lawyers, including criminal lawyers, like it.

For them, it is a way to insist on anonymity and separation from their personal interests during the trial.

Wig - Reuters - Reuters

Hong Kong Supreme Court judges wear wigs during celebrations to mark the start of the legal year

Image: Reuters


It’s not just British lawyers who wear wigs during trial. Some former UK colonies such as Kenya, Zimbabwe, Ghana and Malawi, and British Commonwealth countries such as Australia and Canada also use the jewellery.

But those fighting to eliminate this colonial legacy have opposed it.

Australia’s Chief Justice Marilyn Warren demanded that lawyers remove her wigs before addressing her, he said Washington Postin 2016.

Also according to the newspaper, some former colonies of Africa are also trying to abolish this practice, but not everyone thinks that it is a foreign imposition. Many see wigs as part of their uniforms.

Wig - AFP - AFP
Image: AFP


Horsehair wigs have become a symbol of the British judicial system and have been used in court since the 1600s during the reign of Charles II (1649–1651), simply because they were worn at that time.

Some historians believe they were popularized by the French king Louis 14 (1638–1715), who was trying to hide his baldness.

In the 18th century, lawyers, judges and other members of the upper class began to wear wigs to differentiate themselves from other people.

according to this site of the British JudiciaryWigs gradually fell out of fashion during the reign of George III (1760–1820). At the turn of the century, only bishops, instructors and lawyers wore ornaments.

Until the 1780s, judges wore long curly wigs. After that, she opted for shorter, less formal versions, with curly sides instead of curls and a shorter tail at the back.

Currently, the wig is shorter in everyday life and more pompous at other times.

Wig - Reuters - Reuters

A British Supreme Court judge’s wig flies during a parade marking the start of the legal year in London, England

Image: Reuters

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