Aug 25, 2017

Counsel’s Wig; A Symbol Of Sagacity And Old Age| Damilola Dawodu

History of the wig and gown
The tradition of wearing wigs and the culture of adorning gowns was borrowed from the prevailing practice of the time, however, in the case of gowns, it had a little twist.

History records that people wore gowns as early as the 17th century and it formed part of the traditional attire of the ancient English people, however, these gowns were very colourful gowns. Eventually, the English People wore a black mourning gown after the death of King Charles II in 1685. Unexpectedly, after the mourning period, the lawyers decided to keep wearing it, as it begun to symbolise the sombre and solemn nature of the profession as well as the attribute of neutrality.
The black robe worn by lawyers also has a weird piece of triangular cloth attached to the left shoulder, often described as ‘violin-shaped’, which is cut in two lengthways. The origin of this is a bit more uncertain; there are two theories on it:
The first of these theories is that the triangular clothe once served as a money sack for the payment of a lawyer's brief fees, more professional called professional fees.
According to some, it is divided in half to create two segments, one for gold coins, and the other for silver. The idea being that since lawyers were initially not openly paid for their work, clients placed ex-gratia payment into the Triangular-shaped pocket, literally behind their back, to preserve their dignity. Therefore, because they could not see how much they were being paid, the quality of their advocacy in court could not be compromised. (we like this theory, but it’s an unlikely one)
The second theory is that the triangular cloth is a derivative of the mourning hood introduced following the death of King Charles II, in consonance with traditional mourning dress of the time.[1]

Subsequently, Lawyers and Judges started adorning the wigs around 1680. For 150 years, the wig worn by lawyers was usually made with powdered white or grey hair. In 1822, Humphrey Ravenscroft invented a special wig for Lawyers and Judges, which were  made from a whitish – grey horsehair that did not need frizzing , curling, perfuming or powdering . Wigs are like hats cone in various sizes and have to be fitted.[2]

Why Nigerian Counsel adopted the Tradition of adorning the wig and the gown
Our colonial masters, who still adorn the gown when appearing in courts, introduced the practice of wearing the wig and gown by lawyers when appearing in court.
Whether the continued adornment of the wig and the gown is still of any relevance in the Nigerian Legal System has sparked different reactions. To some, the wig and gown is an inspiration to lawyers, as adorning the wig and gown gives one a sense of satisfaction. Also, it gives respect to legal practitioners, and make the clients respect the profession when in court because of the regal nature of the attire.  To others, The wig and gown distunguishes the legal profession from other professions and from other members of the society.
Some are of the opinion that the Wig and gown epitomizes authority, formality, dignity and solemnity of the law. It emphasizes on the objectivity of the law and deflects personal attention from the judge. It was also introduced  for hygienic reasons.

Instances where it will be compulsory to be adorned in the wig and gown
A perusal at the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners (The Rules) 2007 shows more prominently Rules 45 & 36 which stipulate that:
Except with the permission of the Court , a lawyer appearing before a High Court , the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court shall do so in his robes
(2)  A lawyer shall not wear the Barrister’s or Senior Advocate’s robe
(A) on any occasion other than in Court except as may be directed or permitted by the Bar Council ;or
( b) when conducting his own case as a party to a legal proceeding in Court ; or
(C) when giving evidence in a legal proceeding in Court.[3]
 “When in the court room, a lawyer shall
(A) be attired in a proper and dignified manner and shall not wear any apparel or ornament calculated to attract attention to himself.
(B) conduct himself with decency and decorum, and observe the customs, conduct and code of behaviour of the Court and custom of practice at the bar with respect to appearance, dress, manners and courtesy.."[4]

The specified mode of dressing for male lawyers is Black or dark- blue two piece or three piece suit, white collarless shirt, white wing collar ( size  bigger than shirt neck size ) white band  ( bib) elastic or lawn , two studs  ( one at the back and one in front of The collar ) to hold collar to shirt ; and black shoes with black stockings . Alternatively,  men would wear  (a)  white shirt with wing collar in lieu of collarless shirt and detachable  wing collar . ( b) Black and grey stripped trousers in lieu of suit trousers (c)  sleeved vest in lieu of coat

For the women, the specification are as follows:
a. Black or dark- blue suit or straight dress or skirt and jacket with white blouse if open; white collarette or ladies white band and black shoes . The dress must have long sleeves and be high to the neck and the dress or shirt must be knee length , it must also be of a sober appearance and not worn in a manner as to attract unnecessary attention. The skirt should not be too tight as to expose the stark figure or contours of the body.

For inferior Courts :
For inferior courts, White shirt and long tie may be worn with the suit in lieu of wing collar by men . The wig and gown should not be won in  the inferior Courts or outside Court premises, except with the permission of the General Council of the Bar. See Rule 45 (2)(a) of the Rules of Professional Conduct 2007. The occasions to this may include lying in state of a deceased colleague, valedictory sessions, opening of legal year.[5]Etc.

Also, the Rule as cited above precludes a  lawyer from remaining within the Bar while conducting a case in which he is a party. He should leave the Bar and remove his wig and gown .[6]

Furthermore, Counsel  are not allowed to wear the wig and Gown in the following Courts;

·        Special courts like the Court  Martials, coroners court etc.
·        Inferior Courts which includes the Magistrate Court and Customary Court
·        Sharia courts

When do counsels get wigs and gown
Wig and gowns are first worn officially during the call to the Nigerian Bar ceremony of the Aspirant to the Bar. Vendors usually come to meet students at the Nigerian law school to introduce them to different wigs right from the first term at the law school. The vendors come to advertise those wigs and they also mention that there are discounts on each wig. The wigs are priced according to the quality.  Some of the vendors succeed in convincing the students, Some will  tell students to buy it and start praying on it. Student who are excited about the idea will buy while some others will calmly wait to buy after the results are out. The ones who calmly wait are usually the lucky ones because they would get the wigs at a price  lower than the supposed  discount price. Some other aspirants order for theirs from abroad.
It is a thing of joy for both the aspirants and the family to be adorned in this beautiful and honourable attire.

THE Wig as a symbol of seniority at the bar.
I am still very young at the Bar, but from my days at the law school especially during the externship, I noticed that one can tell the age of a Counsel at the Bar in Court by the wig.
When you see a white wig , it presuposses that the gentleman is  a new wig. When you see the not-so-white wig it means the gentleman is advanced in age at the bar.
I can not deny that it is worrisome that some lawyers attend court with torn wigs and shabby gowns as an expression of their long years at the bar. This actually goes to say that they don’t look after themselves because such dressing only undermines the high standing of the legal profession.
I know the problem is; the old wigs do not want to be addressed as new wigs and they also want to be given the respect that they deserve. Hence, I will advice and suggest as follows:
1.     Counsel should purchase a strong and durable wig when being called to the Bar.
2.     In the course of the years, counsel should maintain the wig and the gown well, especially the wig,so that it does not get torn or tattered
3.     Counsel should endeavour to buy at least two wigs and use them interchangeably.
If your wig is torn or your gown is battered, buy a new one. Wearing torn or tattered wig does not bring any sort of honour to you nor the profession.

Written by;
Damilola Dawodu
LinkedIn : Damilola Dawodu

[1] Administrator, Why do Nigerian Lawyers wear wigs and black gowns, law , administration of justice, 
[2] Why do Judges and barristers wear wigs, the Nigerian,  life and tech category, Jan 21, 2016,
[3] Rule 45 Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners  2007
[4] Rule 36 Rules of  Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007
[5] A. Obi Okoye ,Law in Practice in Nigeria ( professional Responsibilities and lawyering skills ) page 228

[6]  Rule 36 (f) Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007