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Friday, 3 August 2007

The, "Does My Arse Ego Look Big In This?" Competition

The Bar Council is doing its research on Court Dress. This takes the form of a questionnaire sent to all members of the profession. I accept that this is not directly related to pupillage, but it has a indirect relationship because the public perception of the profession is important. Also, this is just too good an opportunity to miss.

I ought to say that I have already answered my questionnaire sensibly and responsibly and sent it back. Although one is allowed anonymity I have waived mine because I don't see why not. My views are simple - suits for all. I would extend this to criminal work as well, but I am content that many people feel that the wig and gown give a degree of anonymity and put young counsel on a par with more experienced practitioners. I don't actually think either of these things are true, but the perception is there and they add a degree of formality. Of course, new practitioners need to treat their wig as I did - tie it to the rear bumper of the car and take it for a mile long outing on a dry day. It won't come back white...

For any other sort of work the reality, as it seems to me, is that if we cannot, simply by our conduct, persuade members of the public that court proceedings are formal, that we are bright and articulate and that the case is as good as its substance then we are failing in such a spectacular way that we could wear crowns and tiaras and it would make no difference. For that reason, and in the interests of equality, I have also said that there should be no distinguishing mark of rank as between silks, juniors and solicitor advocates. This last was particularly hard - if you are tallish and thin with a tendency to stoop there is nothing quite so becoming as a tail-coat. Ah well - the bottom line, in my view, is that if you aren't good enough in a suit, you're not good enough.

I know that opinion polls suggest that the public would like us to retain wigs and gowns - or at least that this is what is said - a fairly careful search of Google reveals reference to such polls but no result which takes one to the poll itself. But I think this is beside the point. The public are taking about heritage. They like heritage. So do I. I think Beafeaters should look like they have just stepped out of a production of The Yeoman of the Guard and I get upset if they don't. But I don't expect them to be the first line of defence for the nation. The risk of the legal profession becoming part of the heritage industry is that, ultimately, it engenders less respect, not more.

I also find it slightly sad that so much effort is put into this issue. Compared to the Government's attempts to give us a criminal justice system slightly better than Burma's, who cares? The Bar Council is, I think, trying to gain the trust of the profession. They should have more faith - by and large people know that they are doing the best they can against tough odds. That some barristers succumb to the temptation to shoot the messenger is natural - but it shouldn't dictate policy.

Still, in an effort to enliven things a little I offer a prize. Traditionally this is a bottle of wine - in this case Leoville-Barton 1994 (not a great year but still very good, I promise). Alternatively, if you are teetotal or just would rather not have the wine I am prepared to offer an hours careers advice (face-to-face or on the phone). The prize is for the most amusing completed questionnaire, with special attention being paid to alternative dress suggestions, as opposed to the Bar Council's own. You do not have to send it in - but you do have to send it to me. The winning entry will be published and the winner can retain anonymity if desired. I reserve the right not to award the prize if nothing makes me laugh out loud - but I would like to get lots of entries and enjoy myself reading them. If you click on the Questionnaire link above it will allow you to fill in the form. My email address is simon.myerson@netserv.net Enjoy


Law Minx said...

Hiya Simon,

I must confess that I am not witty enough to suggest alternatives to court dress.
However, bieng something an animal lover I feel compelled to highlight the plight of the Barristers Wig. I am generally concerned as to the future of these poor and wretched creatures, who have silently sustained years of abuse (thrown brutally to one side in the heat of a legal tantrum in the robing room, forced day in day out to sit passively on bald/sweaty/greasy - and gasp, dare I say it?! - DIRTY heads!!) but bieng loyal to their owners they sit quietly and patiently in their tins/tesco bags/cardboard boxes month in month out hoping against all hope that they will one day be taken out and treated with love and respect.
O what is to happen to the poor wig?!( much wringing of hands and picture of wretched and abandoned wig sitting in the rain in an upturned box in a backstreet in Holborn)
Will there be home set up by the Bar Council for elderly and unwanted wigs, or will they be put down en mass and buried in a large unmarked grave just outside Crapstone?
What will become of the Younger Wig for whom suddenly there is no longer a purpose or a loving home??.
May I suggest therefore, an Annual Show - a show on a par with and, indeed exceeding that of Cruft's - entitled The Legal 500 - where wigs can be shown according to condition/years of call/colour/style/emebllishments (bows/bells/ribbons,etc)/obedience/responsible breeding/pedigree and so forth. It may yet save the younger wig from the cruel fate which has befallen their elders
You know, It isn't too late to make a wig happy; in fact YOU can do something about this wretched state of affairs today!!- donate NOW to the National Society for the Protection of Condemned Wigs and recieve a blue biro with a chewed end and no ink absoutely free!!
Remember a Wig just isn't for Christmas - its an Itchy Thing that is entirely capable of making you look like a Munter.

Anonymous said...

I won't enter the competition - I probably wouldn't win, I can choose my own wine and I don't need an hour's career advice (16 years Call and counting)!
Personally, I don't think the wig and gown is about "ego." It may be about pomp and circumstance but what's wrong with that? If, as you suggest, we should be able, by our conduct, to persuade members of the public that court proceedings are formal and that we are bright etc. then why suggest a suit? Why not say that we can wear anything - e.g. jeans? And why stop there? Why do we need courtrooms with the Royal Arms? Why not just call judges Mr., Mrs., or Miss? Why bother with an oath? For that matter, why bother differentiating between Silks and Juniors? I'm starting to sound like Charlie Falconer but why did you buy into that tradition?

Simon Myerson said...


Have more faith! I don't think the wig and gown is much about ego either - I just liked the title. Nor do I think there is anything per se wrong with pomp and circumstance. But I do when it gets in the way of doing a job properly and when the Judges abandon the wig and gown and we don't then I think that's where we're headed.
Why stop at a suit? Because what we do is serious and jeans aren't. Come on - you can't seriously argue that if a suit is ok then jeans are too. There is a large element of public perception here and to deny that the public differentiate between formal and informal dress is silly.
Ditto respectful address to Judges. But I agree - why your Honour/my Lord. They aren't (save in odd cases) either and such titles are old. I don;t think we should be calling people things they aren't in Court - the aim is to tell the truth after all.
I also agree about the oath (although as an Orthodox Jew I wouldn't take one). I think a solemn promise is better because it discriminates less and it means more.
Silks and juniors - I agree again. There is a difference between a mark of rank - with which I agree and a whole different language and dress, about which I am not bothered.
Determining disputes is about the people involved and the need to get it right. Everything else shoudl be subordiante to that. We focus far too much on the bit about us. In doing so we let the government cast us as out of date misfits and we wholly fail to deal with the gutting of the system on costs grounds. Every time someone get ready to screw the system in a substantive way, the Bar gets distracted by the cry of 'Oohh - look at your own navel'. That is probably a slight exaggeration but it demonstrates my concern.

Want a guest post to reply (anonymous if you like)? Email me.

Mr Pineapples said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mr Pineapples said...

I don’t do crime and so rarely have to get kitted out these days, but I do feel that the pantomime does add a certain British distinctiveness about the whole thing. It instils a little bit of other-worldliness and with it comes a scintilla of automatic respect. In an age of over-familiarity we need the Courts to retain the sense of awe and the wig and gown, I believe, helps to bring this.

I also love the heritage. Such a shame to chuck it all out.

Anonymous said...

Guest post - a kind offer but (i) I'd probably end up talking against myself and (ii) in some respects I was simply attempting to play Devil's Advocate. The reality is that the wearing of wigs and gowns has always been anachronistic - we talk about anonymity in Criminal cases yet eschew fancy dress in the Mags; care proceedings (which, if you're for the Local Authority, would appear to cry out for anonymity) have us similarly untogged. Apart from hearings in the Mags, history seems to suggest that it's when we're in open court (public present) that anonymity becomes important: in other words that we need to protect our identity from the public - like an executioner!
I do agree that, if Judges are to lose the wig and gown, then we need to do the same - we might give them an inferiority complex otherwise.