Wigs or not?

A recent direction against the wearing of wigs has upset some barristers in Victoria


Article courtesy of the Australian

A Victorian Supreme Court judge has dressed down five barristers for wearing wigs in court, saying that they were openly defying an edict from chief judge Marilyn Warren.

Justice Bell told James Mighell QC, Paul Scanlon QC and Aine Magee QC in turn: “I will not be taking your appearance.”

Since May 1, Victorian Supreme Court judges have not been wearing wigs, on the orders of Chief Justice Warren, who said the ­tradition was out of date with a modern court.

“This is a modern court and the abolition of wigs is all part of the progression towards a modern way,” she said at the time the ban was announced.

“Although we live and work in a 19th-century environment we are trying to be a 21st-century court.”

The court made it clear that advocates were expected to ­follow suit. “Yes it applies across the board,” it said in a statement.

The judge gave Mr Mighell short shrift, despite the counsel seeming to anticipate why he was displeased.

Justice Bell: “You can sit down, if you don’t mind.’’

Mr Mighell: “Your Honour, if it’s …’’

Justice Bell: “I beg your ­pardon, Mr Mighell, just sit down, I’ll speak to the others.’’

After he had done so, Justice Bell asked Mr Mighell to stand as he ­explained why.

“The Chief ­Justice has directed that judges of this court are not to wig unless the circumstances are except­ional.

“You are not showing, and neither are your colleagues showing, the respect that I ­expect of the Chief Justice from you and I want to record my ­profound disappointment that one, two, three, four, five members of this Bar table have wigs on, though I applaud the strength of character of your ­junior (Mr Chancellor) who does not.”

Justice Bell went on after Mr Mighell said they had meant no disrespect and offered to remove their wigs.

“Well I want to make it clear to you that it’s not a question of respect for me, though I do feel disrespected. Whether you intend that disrespect or not, and I accept the fact that you do not intend it and that you are wearing wigs by ­reason of principle, but I experience disrespect.

He said he would give counsel time to take off their wigs. “They will need to be put away as well; I don’t want them to be seen by the jury at all.”

The court statement said the notice had been sent to all members of the legal profession to “clarify any misunderstanding”.

The barristers involved and the Victorian Bar declined to comment.

The matter was not listed for hearing on Wednesday, which suggests that it may have settled at some time during the first day.

The only comment yesterday from anyone involved in the case was that it had been “concluded”.

The Victorian Bar is being pulled in different directions. Recently, it was agreed to restore the traditional title of Queen’s Counsel QC in place of the more modern Senior Counsel SC.

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