Thursday, 16 January 2014
Supreme Court art: dress codes
Call me reactionary but I like a well-designed uniform.
What better to suppress merely personal opinions and to preserve the sober anonymity of statute than an outfit rooted in seventeenth century court dress, which suits both men and women.
Before you say it's OK for me, I don't have to wear a wig, I would draw your attention to the hair extensions I saw in court today. What's that about, apart from pain?
Court 3 itself has a wig, in a way. The fixed carpet in front of the bench bears the emblem of the Supreme Court - but put another rug on top and voilà, you've got the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which hears appeals from the UK overseas territories, Crown dependencies and some Commonwealth countries.
To see which statutes are in play, look for the flag: Isle of Man today.
The information sheet says that Holt v Her Majesty's Attorney General on behalf of the Queen will examine 'money laundering - falsification of documents - misdirection of jury - improper comments made by trial judge - whether miscarriage of justice - whether conviction unsafe.' It's not an edifying tale. People took certain precautions 'in case we **** up'. They did. I have a pang of regret that I'm not in Court 2 (village greens).
So back to court costume and an irresistible, entertaining, erudite book: Dress, Law and Naked Truth by Gary Watt (Bloomsbury, 2013).
Hogarth liked to bait the legal profession, as in his engraving The Five Orders of Periwigs. 'Aping the standard scheme drawings of architectural orders,' writes Professor Watt, '...Hogarth shows the judicial periwig [third row down] overlaid with lines to indicate the rules that determine the relative proportions of its parts.'
Steeped in Gillray, I've always taken this engraving to be not just a parody but obscene, although no one else seems to mention that, unless I've missed something.
And if you think I'm frivolous, may I refer you to the Cour de cassation, the French equivalent of the Supreme Court:
As I leave the court I see a confetti star glinting on the wet pavement.
I garble this quotation from a forgotten versifier:
'Two men look out through the same bars:
One sees the mud, and one the stars.'
'Look, there's another one,' says the guard.
My blogger uniform looks rather arch and twee today. It might not be appreciated by anyone whose liberty is at stake.
More pictures if you scroll down.