Hong Kong in legal wrangle over lawyers' horse-hair wigs
AFPHONG KONG -- Hong Kong's lawyers were Tuesday embroiled in a legal wrangle with a difference — over whether solicitors should be allowed to don horse-hair wigs traditionally worn by barristers in court.
January 16, 2013, 12:00 am TWN
While only barristers and judges are currently allowed to wear the curled, 17th century-style wigs, the city's 8,000-strong Law Society says solicitors should be able to wear them during certain hearings.
Following a rule change that will soon allow solicitors to represent clients in the High Court and the Court of Final Appeal, the Society fears jurors may see their wig-wearing contemporaries as more authoritative, leading to prejudice in jury trials.
“Solicitors should not be put in a position that there could be a perception of being inferior,” the Society's Vice President Stephen Hung told AFP.
He said although only a small number of Hong Kong's criminal trials are heard by a jury, solicitors should be given the right to wear hairpieces to avoid any risk of bias.
“If there is there one possibility that the public will be misled or confused, we should do away with that risk,” he said.
The Bar Association, which represents more than 1,100 barristers, however, reacted angrily to the suggestion, dismissing the possibility of prejudice and blasting the Law Society's stance as “insecurity.”
“If they want to wear wigs, why don't they call to the bar?” Kumar Ramanathan was quoted by South China Morning Post as saying.
The horse-hair wig for Hong Kong barristers is a throwback to the English legal system, which saw headpieces introduced in court at the end of the 17th century, following the fashions of the day.
As they fell out of favor in wider society and among professions including coachmen and bishops, they were retained in the legal sphere.
The legal profession in Britain has for some years debated whether to ax the headgear and adopt a more modern dress code.