YET again, for the umpteenth time, many people will this week have been bemoaning the fact that they somehow ended up in the wrong line of work. Wig makers, we’ve discovered, must be the only people not wearing hair shirts these days. (Well, wig makers and members of the judiciary, but we knew all about them already.)
On Thursday, the Superior Courts Rules Committee decided to put an end to the compulsory wearing of wigs by judges in the higher courts, and the move was signed into law by Justice Minister Alan Shatter that night.
The BBC immediately reported that the decision was a consequence of the budget deficit, since the word ‘Ireland’ never appears in a story internationally these days unless accompanied by the words ‘IMF’ and ‘bailout’ .
“Ireland to scrap judges’ wigs to save money,” said the BBC headline, with every appearance of poking fun at Paddy’s hare-brained ideas about austerity. This seemed a bit of stretch, cutting hair to save a bob, but look here, have you seen what these wigs cost?
The change in the law governing judges’ attire will save the state €2,200 per judge, it was reported, since that is the cost of each of their wigs. First of all, hang on a minute: we’ve been paying for their wigs all this time? Second of all, how much did you say? A price of €2,200 for a wig that might get you through your chemotherapy treatment as gracefully as possible, that might be understandable, but €2,200 for a bit of grey matting barely big enough to cover the average judge’s pubic patch? That’s too much toupée.
The wigs are made in London, and a quick search of the internet will turn up the website of one of that city’s best-known legal outfitters, with an establishment at Fleet Street. You can order your wig, made “in the traditional manner” from horsehair, online. Try it for yourself.
They come in light grey or, interestingly, in blond, which was more than likely the favoured option of the permatanned Celtic Tiger-era female judge, now extinct. Sizes range from a lowly 54cm all the way up a whopping 64cm, to fit the judge who is more than usually proud of his record in administering jurisprudence. They cost stg£1,549.99 which, at the time of going to press, is the equivalent of circa €1,775, so we’ve been had in more ways than one.
Immediately, the image is formed of a wigger (for if that is not the word, it should be) welcoming a customer in central London. “Good morning, your lordship. What a fine morning. Here’s the small shred of horsehair your lordship ordered. That’ll be two thousand euros. Ha ha ha. What? No, nothing at all, your lordship. Forgive me. Just a private joke.”
At any rate, from now on, judges will be able to decide for themselves whether or not to wear a wig, which means that technically they now have the same freedom as the rest of us. In practice, though, it means judges, like the rest of us, will actually lose the freedom to wear a wig. Because unless you’re a country singer, or a transvestite, or medically bald, wig-wearing is just not done, and that is a great pity. It would have been better for judges had they gained the freedom to wear any wig of their choosing – for instance, a Cher wig. That is a freedom to which we all aspire.
Those judges who want to persist in the custom will presumably have to pay for their own wigs from now on. And just in case the referendum on judges’ pay should go against them in a few weeks’ time, they should be made aware that you really don’t have to spend two grand.
Perhaps the market will now be flooded with unwanted wigs, and démodé judges will be able to pick one up for a snip. Time was when retiring judges passed their old wigs down to their grandchildren, but young Ferdia won’t be needing it now, even if he ever does finally pass the King’s Inns exams. So either they will perch their wig comically atop the stuffed and mounted stag’s head in the billiard room, or they’ll stick it on eBay.
Failing that, another cursory search of the internet yields some quite edifying instructions on how to make your own imitation forensic wig for not more than €10. All it takes is a few metres of polyfill wadding, a pair of scissors and some glue. Of course you will also need some time to spare, but you may find yourself able to muster one or two free hours while the courts are in recess.
Published in the Irish Mail on Sunday, 16th October 2011