MORE than 38,000 has been spent on horse hair wigs, wig boxes and gowns worn by Scottish judges in the past five years.
A further 323,000 was lavished on the highest-quality jackets, trousers, skirts, blouses, ties and cravats for law lords and court officials, according to figures released by the Scottish Court Service (SCS).
Officials refused to reveal precise details of how much was spent on individual garments.
But top London tailors such as Ede and Ravenscroft charge 865 for a pair of sheriff’s light grey, pin-striped trousers, made to measure from the finest wool.
Female sheriffs – who, like their male counterparts, earn 128,000 a year and sit behind an imposing bench – wear
“classic black’ skirts with a price tag of up to 630.
The wigs worn by Scotland’s 142 sheriffs and 34 High Court judges cost up to 2,000 each.
In a process that takes weeks, the horse hair has to be specially treated before it is weaved by an expert, constructed by a seamstress, and curled by a finisher.
Even the boxes embossed with gold lettering used to store wigs cost taxpayers a further 300.
High Court judges in Scotland, who earn up to 197,000 a year, are provided with two sets of robes, one for criminal cases and the other for civil. The garments take up to two months to make but the cost is unclear.
The SCS admits the total cost of court clothing for sheriffs, judges and an undisclosed number of court officials since 2006 is 361,254. A further 72,000 has been set aside for this year.
Paul McLaughlin, a case worker for the Miscarriage of Justice Organisation, said the justice system in Scotland was antiquated and needed modernising.
‘This is an incredible amount of money and could be better invested. We could use a slice of that cash,’ he said.
‘We are on a shoe string budget to support the innocent.’
Jean Taylor, of the organisation Families Fighting for Justice, said:
“These judges have been wearing wigs for centuries. Why can’t they just sit there in a suit? Because of the position where the judges sit, everyone knows who they are. They sit on a panel raised above the court.
‘That money could be used to help the families of victims. We have got judges sitting with these wigs on. But there are children living in poverty in this country. It’s disgusting.’
Unlike judges and sheriffs, advocates and defence agents have to pay for their own court clothes and wigs.
Despite that, 80% of members of the Faculty of Advocates voted to keep gowns and wigs in a 2002 survey.
Brian McKain, the faculty’s director of public affairs, said:
“I would be surprised if views had changed much.
‘Most advocates enjoy wearing the wig and gown. The first thing they do when they come to the bar is take part in a ceremony and their families all come to see them. It’s a proud moment for them.’
Gordon Jackson, a leading QC and former MSP, backed traditional clothing for the judiciary.
‘I don’t suppose a legal system without it crumbles to dust.
‘But I don’t think there is any reason to change it. I don’t think it should be changed because of cost,’ he said.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Court Service (SCS) said the current dress code helped criminals, jurors and witnesses identify staff.
“SCS uniforms assist court users, including jurors and witnesses, to quickly identify staff in a busy environment where other individuals and organisations are also present.
‘The court requires that clerks wear gowns and that some staff also wear wigs in keeping with long-standing tradition.’
In the early 17th century, wigs were simply part of the fashion of the day.
They had gone out of fashion by the 18th century but judges retained them as part of court dress to the present day.
The traditional, long full-bottomed wig is now only worn by judges on ceremonial occasions such as during the procession to mark the start of the legal year, called the kirking of the court. Shorter wigs are worn in court rooms.
Judges and sheriffs can agree to dispense with court dress in proceedings involving children, or in particularly hot weather.
Two years ago, it emerged that the 12 judges of the new UK Supreme Court had been provided with robes that cost 11,500 each.
The black brocade robes – embroidered with gold thread – will be worn once or twice a year. The rest of the time the judges wear suits.