In an article published in the Glasgow Herald on 18 April 2014, it was reported that judges in the Court of Session were to end a 250 year old tradition, by agreeing to dispense with the wearing of robes and wigs when hearing civil appeal cases.
The Court of Session is Scotland’s highest civil court and is divided into the Inner House and the Outer House, the Outer House, hearing cases which have not previously been to court. The Inner House, acts as a court of appeal for cases from the Outer House, and for appeals in civil cases from the Sheriff Courts, the Court of the Lord Lyon and other tribunals.
The move to discard the wigs and robes followed a proposal by the then, Lord President Lord Gill which was further backed by judges. Lord Gill said the move “makes sense in this day and age.”
He further stated that “From 22 April (2014) judges in the Inner House will, ordinarily, no longer wear wigs and judicial robes. Where this is the case the court will not insist that counsel should appear with wig and gown or that solicitors with rights of audience should appear with gowns.”
However, judges and lawyers working on cases in criminal courts will keep their traditional wigs and gowns.
Many may wonder why the legal robe and wig tradition has stuck around for so long. Whilst a growing number of people think that the dress code is as outdated as a suit of armour, others believe that wigs and robes should be worn to enforce the authority of the law. Traditionalists argue that the uniform carries a sense of power and respect for the law and indeed from a pragmatic point of view that the robes and wigs make it more difficult for judges to be identified outside of the courtroom.
However, a recent survey carried out by Scottish Legal News, which asked the question whether there is a place for wigs and legal robes in Scottish courts in the 21st century, found that the majority of lawyers remained in favour of the use of court dress. There were 584 respondents to the survey, with 77.2% being in favour of such clothing in Scottish courts and only 22.8% being against. The debate has provoked strong opinions on both sides – most defending court dress as being an enshrined historical convention while others argued it was mere fancy dress.
Mike Dailly of Govan Law Centre tweeted “I’m all for the removal of gowns in the Outer House of the Court of Session from 1 December (2019). It’s worked well in the Inner House “.
“One doesn’t need garb for persuasive advocacy. Brilliant to see Court of Session leading on this modernisation.”
John Campbell QC is strongly against the change. He is of the opinion that “Courts are generally only used for those who are unable to resolve their own problems, but when they are used, everyone involved should be conscious that they are involved in a higher calling, an important event. Courts’ decisions have the power to change lives, and people bring only their most acute problems to the Court of Session. The Court (established in 1532) is a central and salient part of Scottish life. Part of the way that status and respect for this great institution are enhanced is by requiring those taking part to wear the tried and tested court dress. By doing so, we too show our respect to the institution by conforming to its traditions.”
Prosecutor, Scot Dignan tweeted “They can take my Court Armour when they pluck it from my cold dead body!”
Lawyer and author, Willie McIntyre, asked “How can the public take the law seriously if lawyers are not dressed in mid-seventeenth century clobber?”
As for me, a mere solicitor I do like my gown.