why does a judge wear a wig

by James Hunt The UK's judiciary is often mocked for being out of touch with the society they representвlikely, in part, because of the faintly ridiculous wigs and robes they wear. It's not unusual for members of high officiary to wear a uniform, of course. Priests and archbishops wear robes and hatsвbut unlike judges, these are mostly reserved for official and ceremonial functions. Even the Queen doesn't wear her actual crown full-time. So why do British judges still wear wigs? The tradition of " " dates back almost 700 years, to the reign of King Edward III (1327-1377). At the time, a long robe, cowl, and cloak were standard dress for attending the royal court. At the time the material for the robesвusually ermine, taffeta, and/or silkвwas given to judges in the form of a grant from the Crown.


Although the colors changed over the years, the same dress was retained until 1635, when it was formalized in the ". "
Since then, there have been small changes to the type and style of robes that judges wear, sometimes allied with changes to the court structure and sometimes not. But the wigs? They were a major addition which occurred in the 17th century, purely because the reign of (1660-1685) made them fashionable to all members of polite society. Surprisingly, the judiciary actually resisted this change in fashion at first. Prior to the 17th century, the only requirement regarding hair was that lawyers and judges maintained theirs as clean and short.


Even as late as the 1680s, portraits show judges sitting or standing wig-free. But the trend finally caught on, and even though they started to fall out of favor with the public by the 1760s, wigs remained part of the formal dress of lawyers, judges, bishops, and coachmen. Although the requirement for bishops to wear wigs was dropped in the early 1800s, the tradition persists in the courtsвand with good reasons. Despite the high cost and associated discomfort, some people argue that court dress enforces the of the law, by setting them apart visually from the public. Others say it prevents favoritism, ensuring that the opinion of a jury cannot be influenced by the dress of a barrister.


In more recent times, the requirements have been substantially relaxed, and the use of robes and wigs is mostly seen during criminal cases and at formal events. It's possible that they'll be entirely within our lifetimes. For now, just enjoy the strange mixture of absurdity and impressiveness that accompanies these strange traditionsвones which have persisted for centuries without anyone being entirely clear as to why. Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at. It is a British national characteristic to be hidebound by silly traditions, that either make us look quaint or daft to the rest of the world.


A style, fashion, or mode of behavior that made sense once can become set in stone as a fixed tradition. At one time back in the 18th century, wearing those wigs that our judges put on their heads was the height of male fashion. Every man who regarded himself as a person of note wore one. But for some reason, in the legal arena this became a fixed tradition that continued, long after those 18th century wigs went out of fashion. Personally, I think that this sort of thing makes us look ridiculous. But so enamoured are many Britons with everything traditional, that the belief is widespread that just because something is a tradition it is also automatically good.

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