The legal profession as we know it has its own peculiar traditions most of which are from antiquity. An instance of this is the wig and gown which has quite become the de rigueur for members of the Nigerian Legal profession and other African countries. Most law students can’t seem to understand why an effeminate attire like the wig and gown would become the norm for everyone. Why can’t we just don our fashionable suits with a little pizzazz when appearing before courts?
The history is a little muddle at the moment (with every country claiming to have its own unique history) and lot of explanations have been put forward concerning it but one explanation does however stand out. It has been widely regarded the black gowns dates back to the 17th century when Queen Mary II died of small pox in 1694, her widower King William III was said to have ordered all judges and lawyers to attend court wearing black gowns as a token of public mourning for the queen. This formal order by the king was not rescinded but lawyers fell in love with the gown because it gave them a distinct intimidating presence and refuse to give it up. As for wearing the wig, its history still dates back to the 17th century when it was said to have been the fashionable trend of the time but after it became a back number, the legal profession retained and continued wearing it. It’s something that has been handed down the years until we eventually inherited it from Britain as part of our colonial common law heritage (although in most countries there has been minor modifications). A lot of reasons have been cited for why lawyers today still wear the wig and gown (most of which I still laugh over). Here are some;
(1) It was originally designed to distinguish members of the legal profession from other members of society.
(2) It brought authority, formality, dignity and solemnity of the law
(3) It emphasizes on the objectivity of the law and deflects personal attention from the judge. (Surely judges can’t be seen to be flamboyant)
(4) With respect to the judiciary, it is designed to bring anonymity to the judge and help them hide their identity.
(5) It was introduced in the past for hygienic reasons
Do you think it should be done away with? Lets here your thoughts then
A youngish lawyer with penetrating insight, Patrick Herbert is the Editor-in-Chief and founder of Lawstudenthub, a site dedicated to helping new wigs find their footing in a trickily slippery legal profession and stay current with emerging developments in the legal industry. He holds an LL.B from the University of Benin and a BL from the Nigerian Law School, Abuja.
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