Wearing wigs in NSW Courts is a common sight. The Australian legal system is modelled around the common law system that originated in the United Kingdom. Accordingly, many practise still survive from that system. However, many countries have abolished the requirement, such as New Zealand.
Until the seventeenth century, lawyers were expected to appear in Court with clean, short hair and beards. Wigs made their first appearance in a courtroom purely and simply because that’s what was being worn outside it. In addition, wigs were essential wear for polite society. The judiciary, however, took some time to convince. There are portraits of judges from the early 1680s showing judges their natural hair, and wigs do not seem to have been adopted wholesale until 1685.
Some argue that in Australia, the wearing of the wig and robe is an old tradition and is not required; that is, the requirement should be abolished. However, this is unlikely to occur.
In NSW, lawyers do not wear wigs and are not required to. Traditions and rules around the wearing of wigs are different between jurisdictions and countries.
In summary, district court of NSW judges and criminal law barrister are the most common individuals to wear wigs. The type of wig each person wears is usually different. For example, there is a difference between the wig that judges and barristers wear.
The district court in NSW, the Supreme Court and the Court of criminal appeal are where barristers are required to wear wigs. In the Local Court, you will not see barristers wear wigs as it is not required.
In the High Court of Australia, in the appellate jurisdiction, barristers wear what is customarily worn in the Court of Appeal or Court of Criminal Appeal. Conversely, in the Fair Work Commission of Australia, robes and wigs are not worn. In the Drug Court of NSW, robes and wigs are not worn.
As stated earlier, wigs are now a symbol of respect and a polite judiciary society. Wearing a wig is believed to bring formality to proceedings and a sense of power and respect for the Court. It also helps distinguish judges from other members of society – both inside and outside the courtroom.
All Judges in NSW wear a different wig and robe when presiding over a matter. However, there are exceptions to this rule and tradition. For example, a judge in the Supreme Court of NSW sitting on the bails list would not be wearing a wig and a robe.
The wearing of wigs and robes by members of the judiciary and the legal profession is a long-standing tradition that is here to stay. It distinguishes these officers of the Court from other members of society and, in addition, enforces the perception of the separation of powers doctrine in Australia.