As one of Britain’s oldest overseas dependent territories, Bermuda boasts a legal system much revered and respected universally. Its laws are English Common Law, Principles of Equity, and most of the English Acts that were in being as from 11 July 1612. However, these latter laws and principles are subject to legislation passed by Bermuda’s Legislature from that date.
Bermuda’s legal practice and procedure also mirrors the UK in its traditional outer form. The Puisine judges of the High Court, known locally as the Supreme Court headed by a Chief Justice, all don the unmistakable full bottom wig and gown whether it is the brilliant ermine for criminal proceedings or the somber black in civil cases. Even the barristers appearing in the Supreme Court, Queen’s Counsel (QC) and junior barristers are, to use the local vernacular, “decked out” in the infamous wig and gown. The QCs wear silk gowns while the juniors of whatever age or calling wear the stuffed gowns. Seniority is established by one’s Call to the Bar.
While the wig was the vogue during the reign of George II from about 1714, it made its debut under Queen Anne in 1702, and from the founding days of Bermuda (or the Somers Islands) in 1609 the wearing of the wig and gown also became the Bermuda custom.
The renowned horsehair with its tightly made stiff curls was especially made for its wearer. Unlike one’s natural hair which ages/changes with one’s age this is not so for the horsehair. Rather it literally changes with usage and handling.
The stuffed gown worn by junior barristers retains to this day a fiscal relic of days gone by – a symbol of the fact that barristers could not sue for their fees. They therefore carried their collection sack on their backs in which their grateful clients deposited their financial appreciation. So, the next time you see a barrister in court closely observe the back of his robe over his left shoulder and you will see there his replica pouch for his satisfied clients!