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Judge's wigs have already become optional - but now the elaborate traditional robes are being replaced with a simpler, more modern equivalent. Andrey Burmakin via Shutterstock
Court clobber

Out with the old: Supreme Court to ditch traditional robes next week

Supreme Court judges believe the current robes, which date from pre-independence, are inappropriate for a modern republic.

THE SUPREME COURT is to break a decades-old tradition and scrap its traditional robes from next week – replacing them with simpler alternatives which judges say will both modernise the court and make it slightly cheaper to run.

The traditional coat and vest uniform, which is said to have cost almost €2,000 a year in upkeep and cleaning, will be replaced with a simpler more basic uniform costing less than half that amount.

A statement from the Courts Service said a “change was needed to an area neglected during the turbulent times of nation building, following independence.”

The changes came after the seven members of the Supreme Court, led by chief justice Susan Denham, asked the rules committee of the superior courts to prepare a chance in court rules, formally scrapping the older ones.

Those rules have now been approved by justice minister Alan Shatter and signed into law, meaning the new robes will get their first outing when the court returns to session next Tuesday.

The chief justice said this evening that the traditional outfit was “rooted in a previous, historical regime”.

“This move to a new, cost effective and dignified form of dress is not just attending to unfinished business from the foundation of the state – but is an assertion of the distinct Irish nature of our law and courts – of their independence, steeped in our own Constitution and traditions,” Denham said.

Shatter welcomed the news and said the changes marked “a dignified and cost effective new form of attire – wholly suitable to the modern Ireland in which the Supreme Court interprets our Constitution”.

The efforts of Denham and the other justices do not mark the first time that judges had hoped to change the robes: the first Chief Justice after independence, Hugh Kennedy, had also sought to change judicial attire but was unsuccessful.

The previous rules described the roles of court judges as “a black coat and vest of uniform make and material of the kind worn by Senior Counsel, a black Irish poplin gown of uniform make and material, white bands and a wig of the kind known as the small or bobbed wig.” The wig is no longer obligatory, however.

They will now be replaced with a simple black robe with two green bands on the sleeves, and a white tab at the neck.

Judicial robes in the UK – and therefore in much of the developed world – are thought to have begun wearing black after the death of Queen Mary II in 1694. The formal mourning period continued for years after the Queen’s death and led to black robes being considered the formal, everyday uniform.

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