If you're lucky enough to have attended a Crown Court, then you'll have noticed the peculiar way you're transported decades - perhaps centuries - back in time, as soon as you step through the door (if you haven't been to a courtroom, I really recommend you try it - go here to find out the listings in your local Crown Court). You'll also have noticed that they don't even have gavels - what a waste. Questions you may find yourself asking include:
- Why are these people wearing actual wigs?
- Why is the Judge wearing a purple dressing gown?
- Why am I being told to stand up every time the Judge enters or leaves the room?
And you'd be right to ask these questions.
In reality, there is no reason any of this needs to happen - unless you count "the needless dick swinging of rich people to validate their importance" as a reason. It all seems a bit embarassing. Like Judges occupy some special branch of insecure masculinity that requires everyone to get up when they enters, and to address them as "Your Honour".
I recently had a conversation with my incredibly talented and brilliant sister where we laughed about how creepy and weird and pervasive it is that leaders of cults always go by "his Serendipity" or "his Excellence." This whole "Your Honour" business seems a little too close for comfort.
The crux of the problem seems to be that while Judges and barristers do perform a vital and important role in upholding the democratic and moral values in our society, so do plenty of other people.
There are many, many people in our society who perform vital work: nurses; firemen; binmen. And I'm sure that your local fireman is not being paid nearly as well as your average Circuit Judge, who is being paid upwards of £143,095 per year (see 2020 judicial salaries here). If the Covid Pandemic has taught us anything, it's that we rely on far more people, on a far lower wage than we all previously thought.
Can you imagine being paid more than a hundred thousand pounds per year, and still requiring people to address you as "Your Honour"? It's so bizarre. And the only reason I can find for it happening is "well, that's how we've always done it."
It feels disrespectful to all the other people who are doing important things in society (for significantly less money) to pick this one group of people - who are likely male, white, from upper class backgrounds, with private education and a trust fund (see Malleson, 2009) - and hold them in such reverence.
Many other courts around the globe have already recognised this, and done away with this arrogant pomp and decorum. It will surprise no one to learn that most countries where lawyers/judges still wear wigs are ex colonies of Britain (sorry). Like in Nigeria. But even some of these countries have dispelled with the pageantry. It pains me to say that America is actually ahead of us in this way - having gotten ridden of this peculiar charade as early as the 1800s.
When America are leading the way in humility and modesty, then clearly something needs to be done.