Robing in the ACT Supreme Court

“If you search the Internet, you will find websites to satisfy every sexual proclivity known to man and woman, but you won’t find anything relating to sexy barristers wearing a wig and gown.”

Confessions Of A Barrister, by Russell Winnock.

It is fitting perhaps that the above author has used a pseudonym as the traditional legal robes and wig come from the notion of anonymised justice: that the practitioners at the bar are not personalities, but ministers of justice, dealing impartially with whatever case they are given.

It is of a piece with why Lady Justice holds the scales and sword atop the Old Bailey while wearing a blind-fold.

But things change.

While the High Court and ACT Supreme Court have long operated without requiring judges to wear wigs, the NSW District Court continues the practice (though with some judges not always following suit).

Mere solicitors in NSW have not been required to robe for many years when appearing in the District Court, but they had to when in the ACT Supreme Court until only recently.

A Practice Direction from September 2019 states that solicitors are not to robe in the Supreme Court for sentencing or any matters other than the running of jury trials. The overwhelming bulk of such trials are run by barristers, who are still required to robe, so only a very few solicitors will be required to robe as “solicitor-advocates”.

While it might mean little in terms of the quality of submissions or examination of witnesses, the move might well help citizens feel that the Court deciding their futures is a little more accessible, particularly in the case of sentencing matters.

It can be a confronting experience when the solicitor you have been used to dealing with through appearances in the Magistrates Court and committal to the Supreme Court suddenly appears in flowing robes and scratchy wig.

In my experience, the move away to business attire for solicitors can only be for the good.

Whatever your criminal-law matter, Armstrong Legal can look after you, from traffic infringements and licence appeals before Magistrates to sentencing for the most serious matters on the criminal calendar in the Supreme Court.

And, of course, if you matter is one that can be contested before a jury, we engage specialist barristers for individual matters.

Our team deals only in the criminal law and stands ready to assist you with any criminal charge.

BY Andrew Fraser, Senior Associate, Criminal Law, Canberra

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