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Judges’ Wigs

This blog has previously referred to the wearing of wigs by barristers. Until fairly recently the wearing of a wig by a barrister was compulsory under the Rules of the Superior Courts. (The Rules are law [well, a kind of law] and are made by the Rules Committee. Its membership is chosen, it would appear, to be representative of some of the various “interests” in the legal system).

Currently, it is obligatory on judges of the superior courts to likewise wear wigs.

As an issue this is simply not open to debate. The wearing of wigs is required because that’s the way it is.

Situations like this can be explained, but not by seeking opinions to explain the reasons for the situation. Instead we have to look to psychology.

The real purpose is to assert wordlessly, the finality of rational adjudication from the judge. That is, it is intended to define rationality by reference to the wig; rationality emanates from the wig. Without it, there is doubt and possibly confusion.

In 1973 David Rosenhan and some colleagues demonstrated that “sane” and “insane” were social constructs.

Likewise, in the field of law, the “plaintiff”, the “defendant” and the “judge” are social constructs.

This very dangerous [from one point of view] for the judge.

Leo Tolstoy has remarked:

The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.”

There must, in short, be mechanisms to cut short the revelation of alternative, including superior, expositions of reality.

The judicial wig is one of those mechanisms.


  1. So, the Pope speaks “ex cathedra” when expounding infallibly. Does the importance of the judges’ wigs mean that they speak “ex saeta”?

  2. Apropos Judges’ wigs, I suggest that they
    (1) Cover up baldness (male and female) and bad hair-days (male and female). Judges do have an an independent existence; some are earthy and unbelievably common-sensible and in touch with the common herd. It’s a pity that they are usually retired from office before these attributes come to notice. And some still have opinions of their attractiveness – consider the trendy long-haired young fellow in previous days who is now a senior judge valiantly striving to appear ancient and sagacious- but we remember the “Bishop Cumiskey look- (apologies to Bishop C but it s the only comparable example now that the late lamented Judge O’Leary has departed to a Higher Bench; seated just Left of the Right Hand…).

    Also, wigs preserve Judges’ learned scalps from excessive scratching when befuddled by the equally learned but completely divergent and opposing interpretations of the same laws studied ad infinitum by the best and brightest in the business.

    I new an old and delightful District Judge who wore his wig as a badge of elitism and only brightened up and was effusively welcoming when a brother-in-wig appeared in his court; Barristers stick together when faced by the common herd of un-bewigged legal sparrows!

    Finally, I heard an old man once remarking that the judiciary wore wigs to protect their learned heads from the cudgels of dissatisfied litigants. I of course was duty-bound to correct him (he had heard about too many faction-fights from his grand-father’s grandfather)in stating that those elevated to the upper benches – whether by political ‘leg-up or over’ or strictly on the merits – were obliged to meet the conditions precedent for elevation by having a hard (impenetrable) head and a neck like Dunlop’s steel ball-bearings.

    Did you notice how much like your friendly, jovial Father O’Flynn type of local Parish Priest, Ex-Mr Justice Barrington looked recently on T.V. Here was a man of the people; a man you could warm to! Never having met him in the Bar Library, or even at the Bar or in any bar, I feel that not a little of his obvious charm and great with is due to the act that discarded the wig and exposed his human head.

    I say and demand that only females be allowed to wear wigs nowadays- whether on the Bench or on the tiles!


  3. erratum “with” should read “wit”