Judges sitting in the Inner House of Scotland’s supreme civil court, the Court of Session, will no longer wear wigs and judicial robes when hearing civil appeals. Where this is the case the court will not insist that counsel should appear with wig and gown or that solicitors with rights of audience should appear with gowns. Where the court intends to wear wigs and judicial robes, for example at ceremonial sittings, practitioners will be informed accordingly. However, in the ordinary course of proceedings this is no longer deemed appropriate.
The Lord President, Lord Gill, who proposed the move, stated that “it makes sense in this day and age.” The change took effect on 22 April 2014 and brings the Inner House in line with practice adopted by the UK Supreme Court. The Justices of the UK Supreme Court do not wear legal dress and since 21 November 2011 advocates appearing in the Supreme Court can agree to dispense with all or some of traditional court attire.
In the context of court dress of foreign final appeal courts, the relaxation also has the effect of steering the Inner House from a position of undoubted formality to one of comparative freedom. In the US Supreme Court, attorneys appearing in the Court are asked to wear professional business attire, although it remains tradition for Justices to wear black robes. Counsel appearing in the Court of Justice of the European Union are required to wear a gown, except at hearings of applications for interim measures. In India, advocates dress must be “sober and dignified” at all times, with the use of gowns being mandatory in the Supreme Court and Higher Courts.
The reform in the rules does not impact existing custom and practice in the High Court of Justiciary, where judges will continue to wear formal robes and wigs when hearing criminal appeals. The requirements in that instance are similar to those for barristers appearing in Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal, where dress “should be unobtrusive and compatible with the wearing of robes” and “wigs must, as far as possible, cover the hair which should be drawn back from the face and forehead.”
While there is substantial variation in the correct dress for practitioners depending on which court they appear, this development can be viewed as an extension of a more general trend in the UK which seeks to step away from the formality of traditional court attire to provide a more personable forum for legal argument.