Monday, January 15, 2007

Wigs and Gowns

In relation to judges rather than to transvestites. An article about anonymity in rape cases (about which, incidentally my view is clear: anonymity before conviction, if any, should be extended to victim and accused) touches on another point - that of wigs for barristers and judges. They are to vanish from the civil courts, but to remain in the criminal courts.

Marcel Berlins disapproves of them in any court, and believes they should go altogether. The most common practical point cited in their favour is, as he says:

The judge sentences a young thug to prison. The accused's friends vociferously demonstrate their displeasure. Later, the judge is on his way home, on the same bus as the thug's burly friends. Shorn of his wig, he escapes unnoticed. Result: he does not risk a beating.

Berlins rather sniffily observes that there is no evidence at all that the lack of a judicial wig would endanger their safety. The fact that it can be hard to find evidence for assaults that haven't taken place appears to have slipped his mind. Then comes his conclusive paragraph:

It is also argued that the wigs give judges and trials dignity and gravity. And a survey finds the public wants them in criminal cases, by a majority of two to one. Those are not good reasons for keeping a tradition that no longer has any practical or symbolic validity.

So. A centuries old tradition that those who administer justice want to keep in place for reasons both sentimental/symbolic and also practical; and one that the overwhelming majority want to keep also. So what would be a good reason to keep it? If everyone wanted to and wigs were an anti-carcinogen? It should really be up to those wanting to effect to change to demonstrate why the change should be made, not the other way round. Careless vandalism of tradition and custom has led to the awful, botched House of Lords Reform, to Cash for Peerages and to the destruction of the constitution and the civil service. It would be nice to think someone might have figured out the connection.


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