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Legal Costume Display at the Royal Courts of Justice: A Glimpse into Traditions and History

Wig and gown of a barrister, London
Wig and gown of a barrister, London


The Royal Courts of Justice stand tall and imposing in the heart of London, serving as the focal point of the British legal system. Beyond the monumental architecture and prestigious proceedings, one can witness a unique display of tradition and history: the legal costume worn by judges, barristers, and also by lawyers from other countries.

In this article, we delve into the significance of the legal costume display at the Royal Courts of Justice, exploring its origins, modern-day importance, and how it adds a touch of solemnity and grandeur to the courtroom.

The Origins of Legal Costume: A Symbol of Authority

The tradition of wearing legal costumes dates back centuries, rooted in the rich history of the British legal system. The attire's distinct design, reminiscent of medieval robes, symbolises the authority and impartiality of the judiciary. The evolution of legal costume over time has retained some traditional elements, while also adapting to modern sensibilities.

Components of Legal Costume: A Regal Ensemble

The legal costume is composed of several key elements that create a regal ensemble. Judges, for instance, wear long black robes with intricate detailing, representing their role as impartial arbiters of justice. The colour black symbolises the solemnity and seriousness of the proceedings, fostering an environment of respect and decorum.

Barristers, on the other hand, wear wigs and gowns, each element denoting their level of experience and expertise. The wigs, although not as commonly worn in modern times, serve as a connection to legal practices of the past and exude a sense of formality.

Preservation of Tradition: A Window into the Past

The legal costume display is more than just a visual spectacle; it serves as a window into the past, providing a tangible link to historical legal practices. Visitors and legal practitioners alike are transported to an era when courtrooms were filled with pomp and ceremony, reinforcing the significance of the judicial process. For example, when passing a sentence of death in court, judges needed to wear the black cap but with the passing of the death penalty, judges no longer needed to wear it. In the legal costume display at the Royal Courts of Justice, you can still see a cap that judges used to wear when pronouncing a death sentence.

Adapting to Modern Times: Striking a Balance

While legal costume remains an integral part of the British legal system, there have been debates about its relevance in modern times. Some argue that the attire can be seen as archaic and out of touch with contemporary sensibilities. However, proponents of preserving the tradition contend that it adds gravitas and solemnity to court proceedings, creating an atmosphere of respect and seriousness.

As society continues to evolve, finding the right balance between tradition and modernity becomes crucial. Striking a balance that upholds the historical significance of legal costume while acknowledging the need for practicality and adaptation is a topic that sparks ongoing discussions.


The legal costume display at the Royal Courts of Justice weaves a tapestry of timeless tradition and history, contributing to the unique aura of these hallowed halls. As visitors and legal practitioners alike bear witness to this display, they become part of a living legacy.

As the world progresses, embracing tradition while remaining open to evolution will ensure that the legal costume remains a symbol of authority and justice for generations to come.


RCJ: Https:// England. Mysite 1. (n.d.).

Sentencing. Sentencing | The Digital Panopticon. (n.d.-a).,sentence%20is%20now%20pronounced%20%E2%80%94%20every


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