Why Do Britain’s Lawyers & Judges Wear Robes & Wigs?

Did you know that British lawyers (the word is “barristers” over there) and judges still wear robes and white wigs in court? Think about that. Here we are in the 21st century, and yet you can walk into a British courtroom today and see people who look like they just time-warped in from the 17th century.

As for why this traditional attire remains in use, a variety of reasons are offered. First, the robes and wigs serve as historical reminders that Britain has had law and order for centuries. Second, they symbolically convey the idea that once the lawyer or judge puts on the robe and wig, he sets himself apart from his own opinions, preferences, and prejudices and becomes the humble servant of the law. Third, the wigs serve the practical purpose of making it harder to recognize the lawyers and judges outside the courtroom, thus lessening the chances of public harassment.

Ah, but the times do seem to be changing. In 2007, Baron Phillips of Worth Matravers, who was then serving as The Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, rendered a ruling that stated that wigs would no longer be worn during civil or family cases. That ruling also called for judges to consistently wear one type of robe, as opposed to the common practice of wearing different colored robes depending upon either the jurisdiction or the season of the year. As for criminal cases, the ruling called for the continued wearing of robes and wigs during those trials, but even that standard is now coming under increasing criticism as being outdated and useless.

This business of what to do with tradition can certainly become very tricky very quickly. We’re seeing that in news stories here in America every day. What should be done about monuments erected to certain Confederate heroes from the Civil War? What should be done about schools and other institutions that bear the names of famous men who weren’t exactly free from all racial bias? What should be done about “Columbus Day” in light of the fact that history records some of Christopher Columbus’ atrocities against indigenous peoples? If you think there are easy, simplistic answers to these questions, you don’t know Americans.

For me, one byproduct of watching all these controversies play out has been a renewed appreciation of the fact that my true citizenship is located in heaven. As Philippians 3:20 says to Christians: “For our citizenship is in heaven…” Being a citizen of God’s heavenly kingdom means that while I pay my taxes to the governments of the United States, the state of North Carolina, the county of Mitchell, and the city of Spruce Pine, I’m simply passing through these territories as I make my way to heaven. Long after all these realms have ceased to exist, I’ll still be a citizen of the heavenly kingdom. That’s why I shouldn’t sink my roots too deeply into any kingdom of this world.

Traditions aren’t always lasting, and history gets written by the winners, but Jesus Christ is eternal, and when the last page of history is written He’ll be the one who writes it. This places me in prime position because He is my Savior, Shepherd, Bridegroom, and (back to the idea of heaven’s kingdom) King. So, while I really don’t know what is going to happen with the Confederate monuments, the names on buildings, Columbus day, or those robes and wigs in British courtrooms, I do know there is soon coming a time when none of these things will matter.

Tell me, does the promise of a time without the traditional trappings of nations, states, counties, cities, and courtrooms unsettle you? If it does, then that is a clear indication that you either haven’t placed saving belief in Jesus or you have a wrong idea about what your future with Him will look like. Remember, Jesus isn’t trying to save all our venerable institutions. That would be like trying to put new wine into old wineskins (Mark 2:22). Instead, He’s bringing in a whole new kingdom, His kingdom. I’m a citizen of that kingdom. Are you?

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