Let’s face it, the law is not exactly the most consumer friendly of the service industries in Australia. It’s expensive, the wheels of justice can grind very slowly indeed, and barristers and judges wear ridiculous garb.
The sight of grown men and women wearing horsehair wigs and black or red gowns in the year 2007 smacks of nothing more than shameless elitism. The 18th century attire of barristers and judges should be consigned to one huge bonfire in every state and territory of Australia.
Last week Victoria’s Attorney-General Rob Hulls at last decided to move on at least removing wigs from our courts. He rightly pointed out that these horribly uncomfortable colonial relics might be ok for fancy dress parties (or, one might add here, even kinky bedroom dress-ups) but that’s where they should be left.
But Mr Hulls appears to be the only Attorney-General in the nation at this stage with the common sense to rid our courts of wigs. Despite sounding relatively enthusiastic about the idea in a phone call with me on Friday evening, Tasmania’s Attorney-General Steve Kons had his media flack telling the press 48 hours later that there were no plans to follow Mr Hulls’ lead. But then, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised – the Tasmanian legal profession is the most antique in the nation in more ways than one.
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Some crusty conservatives in the Australian legal profession defend wigs and gowns on the grounds that they help to protect the anonymity of judges and lawyers. They point to the fact that the Family Court decided to begin the practice of robing after a spate of threats and murders of judges in that court.
This cute explanation conveniently ignores the fact that the vast majority of cases — criminal, civil and family — are dealt with in magistrates’ courts where, with few exceptions, no one has to robe.
Robing is a symbol of the thoroughly outdated view that some in the legal profession hold, which is that they are somehow more than a bunch of service providers like plumbers or accountants. No, we have sacred duties and so we need to dress up like clergymen, they say.
Fortunately in Mr Hulls’ state, some judges are taking it upon themselves to no longer wear wigs and will no doubt support their Attorney-General. Perhaps Tasmanian judges need to follow suit, to shame Mr Kons into ending yet another anachronism of our legal system.