Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Good Morning, Worm, Your Honour

Judges at the Hong Kong High Court,
Bewigged and in Red Regalia

Hong Kong, the former British Crown Colony, continues to cling to at least some of the old ways.  Of course, the tiny quasi city-state reverted to Chinese rule in 1997 after more than 150 years under the British, but apparently, some old habits die hard.

In the High Court, as is the case in many former (and current) British territories, judges and barristers (lawyers who have been admitted to the bar, and are permitted to argue in the Court) wear white, horse-hair wigs.  

Many Americans (and no doubt, others as well) find the tradition to be somewhat bizarre.  But the wigs apparently confer a certain status, and one that lower-tiered attorneys would like access to.  

In the English legal system, there are the aforementioned barristers, and a second type of lawyer called a solicitor: a person who is engaged directly with the clients and argues only in the lower courts.  By tradition, solicitors in Hong Kong are not permitted to wear wigs in the court, a privilege that is reserved to barristers and judges.

Well.... time marches on.  In the UK itself, solicitors these days are permitted to wear wigs when acting in circumstances where they (the wigs) would be worn by people admitted to the bar.  

According to this article in the Wall Street Journal, Hong Kong's solicitors would like to join their English compatriots under the white Thunderdomes.  

Their recent request has been denied.

According to the article, the reason that the solicitors want access (and barristers want to deny it) to the wigs is one of prestige, if not gravitas.

According to a spokesman for the solicitors called Dieter Yih (unfortunately, no photo), 
We're worried that in jury trials there might be a perception that someone wearing a wig is better...The wig makes you look more serious. It looks more professional.

Barristers are, of course, having none of it. Lawyer Jackie Lai sums his feelings up thusly
When I wear my wig, I know something big is going to happen.  It makes me feel like I have more responsibility. I think I exude more energy than without it. It's magical.
Solicitors should not wear wigs. If we have two professions, we have to represent their demarcation by something obvious, like a wig,  People like the wig. Some may say it's ridiculous, but others see it as an icon of a people who—under the wig—are thinking in a logical, authoritative way. 
It's hard to argue that.  I know when I see a grown man in a white, powdered wig, I, too, know that something "magical" is about to happen.

Of course, maybe plain-spoken Thomas Jefferson might have a different view, should he be alive today.  On the headpieces, Jefferson opined
For heaven's sake, discard the monstrous wig which makes the English judges look like rats.
Uneasy, apparently, lies the head on which the wig rests. 
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