Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Big wigs

I had no idea. In England, barristers and judges still wear wigs!

"Some people think it gives them more authority," Baldwin said of his traditional horsehair headpiece, which trial lawyers are required to wear in British courtrooms. "But most of us just think they're itchy."

So many issues to consider, according to this article. Do wigs level the playing field for the young against the old? Do they set up an artificial hierarchy between barristers and solicitors? Do they support healthy anonymity in criminal trials? Does there come a point when they're so yellow and smelly that they have to go? But my thoughts on the matter were biased long ago by Virginia Woolf:

There they go, our brothers who have been educated at public schools and universities, mounting those steps, passing in and out of those doors, ascending those pulpits, preaching, teaching, administering justice, practising medicine, transacting business, making money. It is a solemn sight always—a procession, like a caravanserai crossing a desert. Great-grandfathers, grandfathers, fathers, uncles—they all went that way, wearing their gowns, wearing their wigs, some with ribbons across their breasts, others without. One was a bishop. Another a judge. One was an admiral. Another a general. One was a professor. Another a doctor. And some left the procession and were last heard of doing nothing in Tasmania; were seen, rather shabbily dressed, selling newspapers at Charing Cross. But most of them kept in step, walked according to rule, and by hook or by crook made enough to keep the family house, somewhere, roughly speaking, in the West End, supplied with beef and mutton for all, and with education for Arthur. It is a solemn sight, this procession, a sight that has often caused us, you may remember, looking at it sidelong from an upper window, to ask ourselves certain questions. . . . And they are very important questions; and we have very little time in which to answer them. The questions that we have to ask and to answer about that procession during this moment of transition are so important that they may well change the lives of all men and women for ever. For we have to ask ourselves, here and now, do we wish to join that procession, or don’t we? On what terms shall we join that procession? Above all, where is it leading us, the procession of educated men?

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