Black is the new black
Monday, April 24, 2017
Justinian in Judges, Marilyn Warren, Peach Melba, Robes, Victorian Supreme Court

New judges' robes for the VicSupremes ... Strength and modernity is the message ... History binned in move towards more modest judicial dress-ups ... From Peach Melba 

VicSupremes: wardrobe update

IN a riveting exchange last May, Justice Kevin Bell of the VicSupremes upbraided barristers for appearing before him in wigs. 

HH said this contravened Chief Justice Marilyn Warren's edict that wigs were out. 

Apart from the excitement of counsel being told off by a judge for a fashion misstep, the transcript reveals a tangible sense of the clash between lawyers trying to hold onto traditions that visually set them apart from the rest of the world, and judges who wish to shake off stereotypes. 

Justice Bell lamented the disrespect to Her Honour, but really what he saw was a minor insurrection against the message the Chief Justice was trying to send - that the Supreme Court was administering justice in the 21st century. 

"We will remove our wigs," conceded James Mighell, QC.

Modernisation of the sartorial kind has struck once more, for as of this month a new style of judicial robe has been introduced in the VicSupremes

The Santa costume of the criminal division has been relegated to the archives. Now the only red in sight is trimming on the lower sleeves and the inside lining of the new black capes. 

The robes apparently were designed by the judges themselves with extra input, we understand, from Justice Peter Vickery, son of Major General Vickery. 

With scarlet crime-wear now gone, the last splash of Yarraside judicial colour is to be found in the County Court. 

Supreme Court of Ireland: looking happy in non-English robes

Not everyone approves - on the Supreme Court's Facebook page one member of the public denounced the new outfit as "appalling", while another said they were "frigging hideous" and made the judges "look like nuns".

The Victorian mantle was inspired by the Supreme Court of Ireland, which modernised in 2012 with banks of green on black sleeves. 

The outfit for the Irish judges also served the purpose of differentiating them from the UK judiciary. Could it be that the VicSupremes have caught a whiff of republican sentiment? 

Apart from the desire of judges to have new vestments, why the change? As with the termination of wig-wearing, the makeover is a reflection of Warren CJ's values which has also seen her press for the wider use of technology and a stronger social media presence. 

There's a lot of history to ditch in the process, what with wigs being esteemed headpieces in the royal courts of France and England, and all the accompanying connotations of class distinction. 

High Court robes: seven equal tucks reflecting the seven components of the federationWith the shift away from the drama of scarlet, the new black robes give a more utilitarian, customer focussed, impression. Accessibility and relevance is the message they are meant to project. 

Of course, nothing could be more modest than the newish High Court robes.

Chief Justice Warren is not afraid to take risks. Inevitably, there will be criticism of the new clobber, as there was with eliminating wigs - history being casually junked, etc. But, really, the only people who care about judicial attire, and its symbolic continuation of noble legal narratives, are those who ply their trade in the courts. 

To the vulnerable seeking the protection of the law, surely, a more modest look would be welcome. 

Black is also universally flattering. 

From Elif Sekercioglu 

Article originally appeared on Justinian: Australian legal magazine. News on lawyers and the law (http://justinian.com.au/).
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