The Lord Chief Justice has today handed down a Practice Direction which will introduce the wearing of a new civil robe in civil and family law cases from 1 October 2008. The new civil gown will be worn without a wig.
Court working dress in criminal cases is not affected by the reforms other than High Court Judges wearing their winter robes in summer and winter alike.
The Bar Council today published guidance to the court working dress of advocates, which take effect on the same date.
There is a strong preference within the profession for retaining the current arrangements concerning the occasions on which court dress, that is to say wigs and gowns, are worn by advocates in court.
In all proceedings before the House of Lords, the Privy Council and the Court of Appeal, counsel will continue to wear court dress. Where a defendant's liberty is at stake, counsel will also wear court dress. In County Courts court dress will be worn for trials and business suits on all other occasions.
Business suits will be worn on all occasions in the Commercial Court, the Admiralty Court and the Technology Court. In the Family Courts business suits will be worn except in the course of contested petitions for divorce or annulment of marriages during which counsel will wear court dress. Counsel will wear court dress on all occasions in the Administrative Court and during trials in the Chancery and Queen's Bench divisions. On other occasions, such as applications before masters in chambers and Registrars, business suits will be worn.
The Chairman of the Bar Council, Tim Dutton QC, said: "This guidance is the result of a lengthy period of listening to the public and the profession which sent a clear message that the Bar is broadly content with the current arrangements. These help to emphasise the dignity and importance of legal proceedings in the higher courts. It is to the advantage of all users of legal services that courtroom proceedings retain these characteristics."
Endorsing the Bar Council's announcement, Lord Phillips, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales said: "I welcome and approve the guidance which the Bar Council has published today on court working dress, to run in parallel with the changes to judicial court working dress that take effect on 1 October this year. I am grateful to the Bar for having reached agreement with the Law Society and Institute of Legal Executives before producing their guidance."