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Bar Talk
23 November, 2009  
Courtly attire

It can be stressful deciding what to wear in court … Particularly in Victoria where parliament says one thing and the Bar ‘n’ Grill says another … A voyage of culinary adventure with Justice Hormones Harrison


Parliament’s decision that tiresome items of barristerial motley should be decommissioned is being met with stout resistance by the VicBar and its bedfellows at the VicSupremes.

Section 3.2.7 of the Legal Profession Act, Vic. 2004 declares that “robing is not compulsory”.

It makes the following clear:

* Despite any rule of practice or custom to the contrary, it is not necessary for a legal practitioner to robe to appear before any court or tribunal in civil proceedings, not involving a jury, or in summary criminal proceedings.

* A professional association must not require a member to appear robed in any court or tribunal in any civil or imagesummary criminal proceedings.

* Legal professional rules must not require a lawyer to appear robed in civil or summary criminal proceedings.

* A lawyer can robe voluntarily in any proceedings in which robes were customarily worn before the commencement of this section.

In other words, the bar council cannot require anyone to tog-up if they don’t want to.

Then on November 11 the management at Vic’s Bar ‘n’ Grill issued a missive instructing the rank and file attending Terry Forrest’s welcome to the Supremes that they should be “fully robed, which includes the wearing of wigs”.

This costume is to apply at all ceremonial sittings of the Supreme Court.

The ukase looks as though it’s trickled down from the Supreme Court, which must be concerned that the standards of clobber are slipping.

Why should the bar do what parliament says, when it’s got the Supreme Court telling it what to do?

* * *

imageInterestingly, Justice Hormones Harrison (seen here) was presiding dewigged in the Gacic v Fairfax defamation trial and defence counsel Roger Rasmussen took up the challenge and did the same.

Both have magnificent manes of hair, so there was no aesthetic embarrassment with this display of individuality.

It requires a degree of dexterity, not to say mystical insight, to decide when to dewig, wig, robe or otherwise.

Various handy charts have been produced to assist the confused. The most all-embracing, covering each hue of the judicial landscape, was produced a few years ago by J.J. Spigelman CJ.

See Spiggsy’s handy clothing chart

Around about the same time the Dizzo announced that in civil matters wigs don’t have to be worn but judges, nonetheless, can wig-up if they feel like it – which doesn’t mean that counsel have to do likewise.

Bar management takes the view that its members should do whatever the judge does.

This is the best policy for all realms of barristerial conduct and deportment – not just costume directions.

To assist members navigate their way around the eddies and shoals of “professional attire” the bar produced its own comprehensive clothing guide covering both federal and state courts.

* * *

imageThe Gacic decision is now reserved.

This is the case in which The Sydney Morning Herald and it’s former restaurant critic, Matthew Evans (pic), are being sued by the proprietors of the now defunct restaurant complex, Coco Roco.

The plaintiffs say the review was responsible for the closure of their two restaurants and complain that Evan’s article was defamatory.

The findings will have important implications for the defence of comment.

According to reports in our sister organ, the Gazette of Law & Journalism, the court got some important insights in Justice Harrison’s culinary education.

His mother, it seems, wasn’t much of a cook. “You could tile a roof” with her cheesecake base, the judge declared.

When Weiner Schnitzel was being discussed with one of the plaintiffs’ witnesses, the judge merrily volunteered that, “Even my mother couldn’t make a mess of Weiner Schnitzel”.

There was evidence that the chicken served by the restaurant didn’t taste like chicken, certainly not a Glenloth chicken.

Counsel for the plaintiffs, Clive Evatt, said that “gourmet barristers” he knew described Glenloth chickens as small, expensive and extremely tasty.

There was also quite intense discussion about meat being “rested”.

Fairfax’s counsel, Tom Blackburn, asked Evans to explain about “rested” meat.

Harrison leapt in with an explanation, which met with the food critic’s approval.

The judge added:

“I’m cooking a braised shoulder of lamb tonight.”

The decision is expected on December 18.