Picture a barrister, advocate or solicitor advocate arguing their client's case in court. What sort of image springs to mind? Pound to a penny you're imagining a man or woman in a long black gown with a grey, curly wig. Maybe they look a bit like the 90s television character James Kavanagh QC.

The judge is similarly, or even more grandly, dressed. The ones in suits are the solicitors or, if it's a criminal matter, the accused, who has been firmly advised that he or she would do well to be smartly dressed in front of the jury.

Time for a change (of attire)

But all that is about to change in Scotland's highest civil court, the Court of Session, for all but a small category of hearings. On 31 October 2019, Scotland's most senior judge announced that judges sitting in the Outer House (the "first level" court of the Court of Session) would no longer wear wigs or robes except during hearings which involve witnesses giving evidence. In addition, the Lord President said that:

It is not expected that counsel or solicitors with rights of audience appearing in the Outer House will wear wigs or gowns.

That's already the case in the Inner House, the appellate level of the Court of Session, and in the UK Supreme Court.

The lawyers are revolting (ahem)

Needless to say, the Scottish legal community has been abuzz with debate ever since the Lord President made his announcement. Whilst many welcome modernisation and the demystification of court proceedings, which they see as benefitting the public, others are, shall we say, less enthusiastic:


A survey by Scottish Legal News found that over three quarters of the 584 survey respondents believed there was still a place for wigs and gowns in 21st century courts. However, there's no sign of a reversal of the decision.

So if you find yourself in the Court of Session and see a lawyer dressed in a sharp suit, I'm afraid it's not Harvey Specter or Rachel Zane, but just a Scottish advocate or solicitor advocate. Whilst they might not all be quite so glamourous as the fictional attorneys from Suits, rest assured they are all much more ethically minded, with or without the traditional garb.


Fiona Chute

Senior Associate