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Why Do Lawyers Wear The Wig And Gown? Here Is Why

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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 This formal order by the king was not rescinded but lawyers fell in love with the gown because it gave them a distinct intimidating presence and refuse to give it up.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

Patrick Herbert is the Editor-in-Chief and founder of Law Student Hub. He is an LL.B. Law graduate from the University of Benin, Nigeria. He's a life enthusiast, a budding writer and internet entrepreneur. Patrick is deeply passionate about law and research and has inspired many with his thought-provoking articles. To get in touch, follow him on social media.
6 Comments
  1. Henry says

    It is good because it places responsibility on the lawyers to be responsible. But in a country like Nigeria with hot weather, it is punishment.

    1. Seyi says

      You are on point, it is not justifiable when it is seen in the light of d harsh weather in most African countries. Besides Change is the most constant thing

  2. Patrick Herbert says

    Touché Henry! So you think it is unsuitable to the hot West African climate. I wonder what the others would think of it.

  3. Nnennaya says

    I don’t think the issue of whether it’s enough to get rid of this tradition. Most culture, norm and tradition in our society are inconvenient in one way or the other

  4. Badejo says

    Completely irrelevant to Nigeria. In UK where I practice it is now only worn in a few cases but the majority of us just wear suits. The wig is just a sign of colonial control of the last century no place for it in the 21st century.

    1. Patrick Herbert says

      @Badejo I think you are right. There have been reforms on this garb in some jurisdictions of the world, like India and other common wealth jurisdictions. In Nigeria we are very quick to emulate the legal traditions of our so called colonial masters but impervous to reform even where these traditions have long ceased to be the norm in their country of provenance.

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