A large majority of practising lawyers are in favour of keeping the requirement to wear wigs and gowns when appearing in court, according to a poll carried out by the Scottish Young Lawyers' Association.
The results are announced in the week that the rules were relaxed for most hearings in the Outer House of the Court of Session, apart from when witnesses are due to give evidence.
Overall, 68% of the 372 respondents disagreed with the move, including 88% of advocates, 68% of solicitors, 75% of trainees and 52% of law students. Criminal lawyers were particularly opposed, with 84% disagreeing, followed by 69% of civil litigators, compared with 66% of commercial and corporate lawyers, 62.5% of private client and property lawyers, 60% of employment lawyers and 57% of in-house lawyers.
Similar, or higher figures were returned for a suggestion that court dress requirements should be removed for advocates in all courts, with fewer than 23% in favour; similarly for solicitors. And fewer than 19% believed that sheriffs should be relieved of current court dress requirements.
Most people in favour of retaining current dress code requirements viewed the formality of the gowns (and wigs) as a good thing, seeing it as the lawyer's uniform or "armour". Others felt it created a more equal appearance for solicitors, or a helpful distinction for those looking for assistance from lawyers and for solicitors looking to find their counsel.
Tradition also featured, with many simply seeing no need to remove this important and long-lasting feature. Many felt that the tradition was of comfort to their client and it made their clients feel reassured. Several felt that the court dress brought a sense of gravitas and importance to court business.
Some respondents also felt it was a sign of achievement for obtaining rights of audience.
Most of those in favour of abolishing court dress cited the fact that it was outdated and/or unnecessary. Others regarded it as a negative thing – either alienating the profession from the rest of society or creating an intimidating barrier to access to justice.