06 May 2014

Inner House Judges no longer wearing wigs and robes

Inner House Judges no longer wearing wigs and robes

Vicki Miller, Solicitor, discusses the recent Inner House decision of Gordon Bavaird and others v Sir Robert McAlpine, Watson Construction Limited, James Laidlaw & Sons Limited and South Lanarkshire Council and the impact that it may have on future cases.

Vicki Miller, Solicitor, discusses the recent Inner House decision of Gordon Bavaird and others v Sir Robert McAlpine, Watson Construction Limited, James Laidlaw & Sons Limited and South Lanarkshire Council and the impact that it may have on future cases.

Scotland’s most senior Judge, Lord President Gill, has recently issued a Practice Note regarding the dress to be worn by Judges and Counsel when hearing civil appeals in the Inner House of the Court of Session.

The Court of Session is Scotland’s highest civil court and it is divided into the Inner House and the Outer House.  The Outer House is a court of first instance, meaning that it hears cases that have not previously been to court.  The Inner House is primarily an appeal court, hearing civil appeals from both the Outer House and the Sheriff Courts.  Only one Judge will sit to hear a case in the Outer House but Inner House cases are heard, ordinarily, by three Judges.  However, if a case in the Inner House is particularly complex or significant then five or more Judges may hear the case.

Prior to the Practice Note being issued, Judges in the Court of Session, in both the Inner and Outer House, would wear wigs and judicial robes.  Advocates who were representing the parties would wear wigs and gowns and any Solicitors who were authorised to appear in the Court of Session, known as Solicitor Advocates, would wear gowns. Solicitor Advocates do not wear wigs.

The Practice Note came into force on 22nd April 2014.  It states that Judges sitting in the Inner House will now, ordinarily, no longer wear wigs and judicial robes.  It also states that where this is the case the court will not insist that counsel should appear with wig and gown and that those solicitors with rights of audience may also appear without gowns.

There are currently eleven Judges sitting in the Inner House and they have all endorsed the change.

It should be noted that Judges will continue to wear wigs and judicial robes in the Outer House and in the High Court of Justiciary. Wigs and gowns will also still be worn for criminal appeals.

This new Practice Note brings the practice of Judges of the Inner House in line with the practice of Judges in the United Kingdom Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court is the final court of appeal in the UK for civil cases, and for criminal cases from England, Wales and Northern Ireland.   Lord Gill has introduced the changes stating that it makes sense in this day and age.

The move has caused a split amongst those who want to uphold tradition and those who believe that wigs and robes are outdated and that it is time for a change.  Some members of the Faculty of Advocates see the wigs as a symbol of professional identity and believe that the formal attire should remain.  However, in this day and age it seems out of touch and old fashioned for Judges to continue to wear clothing that has been worn for some 250 years.  It emphasises the split between the lay person and Judges. Although some argue that it is important that a division is recognised, others argue that the traditional dress can be intimidating and is therefore not contusive to an open forum.

Whatever your view on the matter it does seem to be a sign that the Scottish Judiciary are conscious that it is perhaps time to take steps towards making the court room a more modern and personable environment.

Vicki Miller, Solicitor


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