Judgment reserved on wigs

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 January, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 January, 1997, 12:00am

The big-wigs will be on parade in more ways than one at the opening of the new legal year today as judges don their ceremonial attire for what could be the last time.

Lawyers and members of the Judiciary will be decked out in their full ceremonial costumes at what will probably be the last ceremony of its kind when they attend a service at the Catholic Cathedral in Caine Road.

They will then proceed down to City Hall where the acting Chief Justice Noel Power will inspect a military guard of honour before listening to speeches to mark the new year.

A decision on whether the judiciary will still wear their long and curly 'full-bottomed' wigs reserved for special occasions after the handover is likely to rest with the new chief justice.

The wigs have been made the same way for centuries and are crafted by royal robe makers Ede and Ravenscroft at premises in the heart of London's legal community where the company has been based since 1868.

Fine quality horsehair is imported from all over the world and then treated, cleaned and bleached before being carefully woven by hand.

The wigs worn for the ceremony today have rows of fixed curls which fall down from the crown of the head, over the ears and on to the shoulders.

Hong Kong's judges can buy their wigs off the peg, by sending their hat size to London, or they can visit the shop for a personal fitting.

You don't have to be a judge to buy a wig and they are often snapped up by American lawyers searching for a special souvenir.

But at GBP1,590 (HK$20,670) they are a little too expensive for the average fancy dress party.

Kathleen Clifford has been making judges' wigs for 42 years, since leaving school at 15. She said: 'We still make them by hand in the way they have always been made. We did have a professor come in about 12 years ago to see if he could create a machine to weave the horsehair. But he couldn't do it.' A team of five full-time wig makers and many more hired for specific work produce around 100 full-bottomed wigs a year.

It takes six weeks to produce each wig.

It has not yet been decided whether wigs for the territory's judges and lawyers will get the chop after the handover. A poll of judges last year showed support for keeping the traditional dress.

But take a good look at the wigs on display today. It could be a case of hair today, gone tomorrow.