Irish Bar to hold secret ballot on wigs and gowns

The 950 members of the Irish Bar are to decide by secret ballot whether the wearing of wigs in court should be optional rather than compulsory.

A resolution to that effect was endorsed at a recent Bar Council AGM and the ballot will be held over the next five weeks.

Barristers are not empowered to dispense with wigs, but a vote to do so would be referred to the Superior Courts Rules Committee which can change the regulations on court protocol with ministerial consent. That consent would be forthcoming.

Irish Justice Minister Nora Owen included the banning of wigs in a new Courts Bill, published last month and due before parliament in the autumn.

There is considerable opposition to any change among the Bar Council membership.

The strongest opposition comes from the younger, most recently qualified members of the profession, who regard wigs as testament to the fact that they are part of the legal system.

Bar Council sources also claim that dispensing with wigs and gowns in family law cases has made it harder for barristers to persuade their clients to settle. “It is almost as though we removed part of our authority with the wig and gown,” says one barrister.

An official Bar Council spokesman says some members feel that asking them to surrender their wigs is akin to preventing doctors from wearing white coats while visiting hospital wards.

He adds: “Some members are exasperated that there seems to be a lot more political willingness to legislate on barristers' wigs than there is to improve the system of justice by eliminating the appalling delays in cases coming before the courts.”

The Irish Bar Council has elected a new chair, Dublin-based senior counsel James Nugent, who succeeds Frank Clarke, another senior counsel.

Nugent, who was called to the English Bar in 1975 has been a senior counsel for 14 years. His priority, he says, is to win greater investment in the court system “so as to allow all persons access to justice within a reasonable period of time”.