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English courts consider scrapping mandatory wigs for lawyers amid fears they are ‘culturally insensitive’

Courts across the UK are considering scrapping the mandatory wearing of wigs for lawyers amid concerns the dress code is “culturally insensitive”.

“Following questions from lawyers about wig and hair discrimination, the Bar Council has established a working group to review court attire in the context of all protected characteristics,” a spokesperson said. word of the Bar Council, which represents lawyers in England and Wales, in a press release. statement to the Telegraph. “The findings of the working group are currently being discussed with the judiciary as part of our regular dialogue on equality and diversity issues.”

Several black lawyers filed complaints that traditional headdresses discriminated against Afro-Caribbean hair. Although no permanent changes have been decided, judges are currently considering proposals made by the Bar Council, and a decision is expected this fall at the earliest, the Telegraph reported.

“Senior judges are actively discussing with the Bar Council the findings of their working group on court attire,” a judiciary spokesperson also told the newspaper. “We welcome these discussions as part of our ongoing joint work on diversity and inclusion in the legal profession.”

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Legal professionals wearing ceremonial attire leave Westminster Abbey after the traditional annual service on October 2, 2023, to mark the start of the new legal year. (Andrew Aitchison/In pictures via Getty Images)

Michael Etienne, a black lawyer with an Afro hairstyle, called mandatory wigs hair discrimination, a form of racism, in 2022, sparking a public debate after he was ordered to wear the helmet or face disciplinary action. Wigs, traditionally made from horsehair, are not required in all courtrooms. They are no longer mandatory in family, civil cases or before the Supreme Court since 2007.

Leslie Thomas KC, a black legal professional in London, told the Telegraph that he believes the required wigs constitute a “ridiculous costume” that represents a “culturally insensitive climate” at the bar.

Judges and members of the King’s Council wearing ceremonial attire leave Westminster Abbey on October 2, 2023 to mark the start of the new legal year. (Andrew Aitchison/In pictures via Getty Images)

“Wigs should certainly go. There is no place in a modern society for lawyers to wear 17th century fashion,” Thomas told the newspaper, suggesting the judiciary also do away with other court attire “archaic”, such as wing collars, bands and ruffs.

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He said a dress code that only required lawyers to wear a black robe with smart business clothes underneath would “bring the profession into the 21st century”.

The start of the legal year in England and Wales is marked with a church service at Westminster Abbey on October 2, 2023. (Andrew Aitchison/In pictures via Getty Images)

Rachel Bale, a mixed-race lawyer with curly afro hair, highlighted religious exemptions already in place for Sikhs who wear turbans and Muslims who wear headscarves, suggesting to the Telegraph that lawyers should be able to opt out for cultural reasons. She argued that wigs are often “not suitable” for naturally black hairstyles.

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“What’s often overlooked in black culture is that your hair is so inexplicably important and it’s completely tied to your identity,” she told the newspaper.

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