In court, barristers refer to each other as "my learned friend". When referring to an opponent who is a solicitor, the term used is "my friend" - irrespective of the actual relative ages and experiences of the two. Historically, this is a sign of mutual respect for the common heritage and position they occupy. It is also a reminder of the time when the Bar was small enough for all practitioners to know each other personally, which to some extent is still true; in an earlier generation, barristers would not shake hands or address each other formally. The rule against shaking hands is no longer generally observed, though the rule regarding formal address is still sometimes observed.
The student has to undertake 12 qualifying sessions, which may include dining in the Hall of one of the 4 Inns of Court. The origins of this date from the time when not merely students but practitioners dined together and students picked up the elements of their education from their fellow diners and from readings given by a senior member of the Inn (Master Reader) after the meal. Generally, in order for the dinner to count towards the 12 required, the student must remain seated until after coffee has been served.
The barrister’s gown dates back to mediaeval times and was a sign of learning, as were the bands around the neck. By 1600, after centuries of brightly-coloured gowns, black became the colour of choice and upon the death of Charles II it became a mourning gown. Legend has it that barristers were literally paid with a "back hander" when their instructing solicitors put money into the little pocket-type thing that hangs over the shoulder on the barrister's gown.
The wig itself was a fashionable addition brought back to England by Charles II from the court of Louis XIV and their size became the inevitable source of competition between men; from whence we get the term "bigwig"!
The original wigs were very difficult to maintain. Made from horsehair, they had to be frizzed and curled, then treated with “pomatum” – a very thick, scented, ointment – and then covered in a thick layer of powder. This treatment had to be repeated frequently and was as messy as it sounds. In fact, it was the bringing in of a “powder tax” during the wars against the French after the French Revolution in 1790 and the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte which largely led to the ending of the wearing of wigs in the general population. Attorneys, who did not appear in Court, stopped wearing wigs altogether.
Humphrey Ravenscroft in 1822 filed a patent for a Tie-wig which did not require the wig to be curled, tied or treated in any way once made which was patented in 1835. It was immediately adopted by the younger members of the Bar, rather to the disgust of the older generation who thought this a sloppy modern innovation and who retained the onerous curling and anointing of their own wigs. It is the patented Ravenscroft Tie-wig which is worn to this day by barristers.
It was not until 1922 that the first female barrister, Helena Normanton, was called to the Bar. There were the usual debtes about what a woman should wear. A lady barrister's hair will be properly tied back and no hair should be showing from under the front of a woman's wig (and no pretty toes from beneath her gown in the Summer however hot it gets in court).
Barristers will frequently choose a wig or be recommended one by one of the very experienced staff at the wig and gown shops near Chancery Lane like the wands pick their owners in Harry Potter. You have to consdier skin tone and new barristers will not want their wig to look too new. The more experienced barristers you will notice begin to wear their gowns of the shoulder or even off both shoulders.
Personally, I think wigs and gowns add a certain measure of gravitas to the proceedings and respect for the court process as a whole. Hopefully therefore clients and potential clients can take a degree comfort in these symbols of excellence and have confidence in me as their barrister to act professionally and to provide quality legal advice and an exceptional service. Personally, it is my aim to leave my clients feeling that they have received remarkable quality and value.
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