The barristers’ horsehair wigs have been around since the 17th century, but a leading black barrister claims they are ‘culturally insensitive’ and should be prohibited.
Leslie Thomas QC says the white Georgian-style wigs are ‘ridiculous’ and are fashioned for ‘caucasian hair’
Wigs first appeared as part of the legal profession dress code during the reign of King Charles II in the time of the Restoration of the English monarchy and were based upon the court of Louis XIV of France. Going out of fashion during the reign of King George III, they were worn by both barristers and judges to set themselves apart from others in the profession and within society.
The call for the wig ban came after a black barrister with an afro hair style, Michael Etienne, was told that he risked being in contempt of court if he refused to wear one, resulting in the barrister writing to the Bar Council seeking guidance on the issue.
The junior barrister tweeted: “Asked the Bar Council what could happen if, as a Black Barrister with an Afro, I declined to wear my wig.
“The answer included: ‘contempt of court’, ‘wasted costs’ and various potential breaches of Code of Conduct. ‘Unless the insistence was discriminatory”
He added hashtag #HairDiscrimination to his tweet.
Etienne added: “To be clear, I didn’t ask for dispensation. I asked the Bar Council for an indication of whether I might be at risk of sanction.”
He said the Bar Council “doesn’t make the rules but it is supposed to be the representative body, So, we might hope it takes proactive steps to address this issue in the interests of its black members”.
Etienne said he rejected the notion that he should restrain his hair as a condition of his going to work.