Britain’s lawyers and judges are to break with centuries-old tradition and cease wearing white horse-hair wigs in non-criminal cases, the head of the country’s judiciary announced on Thursday. The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, said new dress rules would mean the wigs, which British legal professionals have worn since the 17th century, would not be needed in civil or family court cases.
Wing collars and bands — white cotton strips worn round the neck — can also be dispensed with in such cases according to the reforms, while judges will need just one gown in future instead of a variety of colorful outfits currently required.
“At present High Court judges have no less than five different sets of working dress, depending on the jurisdiction in which they are sitting and the season of the year,” Phillips said in a statement. “After widespread consultation it has been decided to simplify this.”
A review carried out in 2003 found that more than two thirds of respondents wanted to eliminate the wigs in civil cases, although most said criminal court judges should still wear them. Opponents of wigs thought they were anachronistic, as well as uncomfortable and expensive. A shoulder-length ceremonial wig costs more than 1,500 pounds ($3,000) while the shorter ones worn by lawyers cost about 400 pounds each.
However, the idea of abolishing them has met with disapproval from some lawyers who feel the wigs give them an air of authority as well as anonymity. “While there will never be unanimity of view about court dress, the desirability of these changes has a broad measure of agreement,” Phillips said.