Healy O'Connor

Judges end Tradition of Wearing Wigs in Court

A centuries-old tradition, the Chief Justice, Mrs Justice Susan Denham, and most of her senior colleagues will sit in court without their wigs for the first time.

The move to discontinue the practice, in place since the 17th century, follows a decision by the Superior Courts Rules Committee, made up of representatives of the judiciary, lawyers and the Courts Service, yesterday.

The change will save the State €2,200, the cost of the horsehair wigs made in London, for each new judge appointed to the bench.

The change takes effect from today after being signed into law by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter last night. A similar rule will come into force for Circuit Court judges.

Separately, Mr Shatter has proposed ending any requirement that barristers wear wigs and gowns in court in the Legal Services Regulation Bill, published on Wednesday.

The compulsory wearing of wigs by barristers was ended by former chief justice Mr Justice John Murray but the gowns remained. Many barristers also chose to continue wearing wigs. Mr Justice Murray also changed the required form of address to a judge from “My Lord” to “Judge” or “A Bhreithimh”.

Mr Justice Murray commissioned the design of new robes for the judiciary, which would have dispensed with the need for wigs. A design was approved, resembling the robes worn by judges in many of the EU member states, but they had not been proceeded with at the time of his retirement earlier this year.

The horsehair wigs, which have been worn in British courts as a matter of rule, tradition and law since the time of the restoration of the monarchy in the 17th century, survived the transition to Irish independence in 1921.

Ireland, along with the UK, is one of the few countries in the common law world where judges still wear wigs, and recent reform in England and Wales has reduced the wearing of wigs to ceremonial occasions.

Judges do not wear wigs in the US, Canada, Australia, India or New Zealand, except on ceremonial occasions in the case of New Zealand.

The wigs currently cost almost €2,200 each and are made by specialists in London.

An exemption to the rule requiring wigs to be worn has existed for family law proceedings for some time, to minimise the formality associated with such cases.

(The Irish Times, 14th October 2011)

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