Judgments passed on question of style

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 January, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 January, 2000, 12:00am

It seemed a strange way to mark a new millennium, clad in long horse-hair wigs, flowing gowns, and buckled shoes, looking like actors starring in a historical drama.

The judges were, of course, wearing their traditional garb for the opening of the new legal year.

It may have survived the handover, but controversy is brewing over whether the centuries-old attire has a place in the year 2000.

Indeed, the wigs and gowns, steeped in colonial history, seemed a little out of place at City Hall as the national anthem rang out.

Appeal Court judge Mr Justice Gerald Godfrey said the time might soon come when a new outfit was needed for a new millennium 'because it gives the wrong impression to modern people when judges dress in an old-fashioned way'.

Former Chief Justice Ti Liang Yang said the traditional dress should only be kept for another few years. There was a need for a new design.

'They are very impracticable and expensive. When examining the legal and judicial system, people will look at its form instead of examining the law itself. It is very medieval,' he added.

But Deputy High Court Judge Wesley Wong Wing-fai and Deputy District Court Judge Mary Yuen were in favour of keeping the colonial costumes.

'It's the system itself which is important, not so much what you wear.' Judge Brian de Souza said that in changing times the traditional attire provided some visible form of continuity.

Mr Justice Henry Litton of the Court of Final Appeal said a consensus should be sought among the legal profession, and agreed it was appropriate to form a working party to look into the matter.

Other traditions, apart from the clothing, were in evidence yesterday, such as the customary dozing by a few judges during the learned speeches.

But Law Society President Anthony Chow Wing-kin knew how to wake them up.

He marked the occasion by announcing, amid laughter, that a licence to serve alcoholic drinks had finally been obtained for the society's clubhouse bar.