Wigs, killer heels, Pilates, even fillers – whatever works for you, honey.
May 28, 2024 – Iman

When I was young, I used to love general elections. I tried to stay up all night and made cardboard swingometers and had all the statistics on every marginal constituency. True, they were not as much fun as in the 18th century but proper hustings and real argument between the political parties still made it an exciting time. Now I find them dull and uninspiring, more like choosing a washing powder. Starting the count on the following morning used to be reserved for Northern Ireland and very far-flung constituencies; no longer and no surprise.

As Paddy Corkhill always says, at elections the ones in power have to tell everyone about all the wonderful things they are going to do but for some reason never got round to doing when in office, and the ones not in power have to tell you all the wonderful things they are going to do, hoping you don’t remember why they got thrown out in the first place. It is best summed up by the anarchist rear-view window sticker which states the important truth: ‘Don’t vote! It only encourages them.’

I sat down by chance for a bite last week with an Hon. Member who is standing down at this election. He was nostalgic, although he seemed to view the condition of the parliamentary estate much as judges and Recorders do when turning up at the average Crown Court. He is a good constituency MP and I am sure his constituents, like me, have difficulty remembering to which political party he actually belongs. He once told me that one sign a senior politician is losing their grip comes in their being unable to face, or even talk about, anything considered to be intractable and insoluble. I understand the phenomenon. I have an elderly relative (‘elderly’ being a word whose definition shifts with every passing year) who cannot watch the News because it agitates him. I sometimes have the feeling myself when watching drama on television or when a brown envelope arrives from HMRC.

Sadly, if recent news reports are true this may be happening to those (whoever they are) who constitute ‘the courts’. Faced with a prison population which is about to explode over hellish overcrowding, court delays longer than the explanations of the Ministry of Justice as to why nothing is its fault, court buildings in a race with the Houses of Parliament as to which will fall down first and ‘the common platform’ (sadly not referring to the place from where you catch a train in an insalubrious locality), it is doubtless easier to move the mind from the scene of doom to other matters.

And so, the press reports, ‘the courts’ are considering removing the requirement for wigs in those courts that still have them as, if the newspaper is correct, they are or may be culturally insensitive. I have no objection in principle, provided we avoid making any patronising assumptions. I can’t help but think of the substitution of ‘claimant’ for ‘plaintiff’ or those strange robes now worn in the High Court which, far from an improvement on the former elegant garb of a High Court judge in ‘Civil’, are changes lost on most people, including the legal profession.

Whether the proposal stemmed originally from ‘the courts’ or ‘the profession’, hopefully there will be a more widespread consultation and in the context of a criminal justice service on its knees.

And if wigs are to go, could we not get rid of the whole kit and kaboodle? Gowns without wigs look silly and get tangled up in those new chairs on wheels which they seem determined to introduce. What about wing collars and bands? Definitely uncomfortable and wholly out-of-date. Obviously, we do not want a fashion contest, so why do we need suits and ties? No one wears them now. Why black clothes? Legal robes grew out of ordinary dress. We could return to it.

Indeed, why do we need to be in court in the first place? With modern technology we could do it all just as well from home including the jury. And judicial discretion is so circumscribed now, particularly in sentencing, that a decent piece of AI could manage it without being affected by backache, hangovers and frustration. It would also be brilliant (and synchronised) for trial management. And if the courts cannot cope without costume alterations, and some physical presence is still needed, discussion on how to dress the inevitable judicial robot will fill all those free hours beautifully.