Hong Kong’s judges do their annual whatever-it-is where they all sit in their wigs and robes and listen to a government minister approved by the Chinese Communist Party pledge his undying commitment to judicial independence. China’s own top judge has just said much the same thing, but of course no-one seriously believes a one-party state is compatible with ‘Western-style’ separation of powers. Indeed the CCP specifically rejects such a system.
Hong Kong’s virtual independent court system, with a political veto held in reserve for Beijing via National People’s Congress ‘interpretation’, is as autonomous as you can get under the current regime. Idealists like to dream that the Big Lychee could serve as a model for the introduction of semi-rule of law on the Mainland, but a brief history of Chinese law suggests that the culture of governance up there simply cannot adapt to such an alien approach. As with the banking system, pollution and corruption, on the one hand China will collapse if it doesn’t change, but on the other hand it can’t and won’t change – and what’s the point of worrying our pretty heads about it?
The South China Morning Post gets down to the nitty-gritty, namely wigs…
The tiresome conflict between barristers and solicitors turns into abject childishness. To casual observers, barristers look like the sexy bit of the English-style legal profession, swishing around and dazzling juries with their oratorical skills in court, while solicitors do all the boring Xeroxing and stuff for people’s mortgages. Look deeper, however, and it’s not quite like that. The decrepit old has-been begging for drinks with a Southeast Asian floozy draped over him in a flea-ridden Wanchai pub is a barrister. The smart and witty woman in designer business attire with a Mercedes and three apartments is a solicitor. Obviously, there are exceptions, but this is my experience.
You wouldn’t have thought that people would be jealous of the right to wear one of these peculiar-looking wigs. The judges’ ones look more like open-faced balaclavas. According to my history teacher many years ago, this style became fashionable in 17-18th Century Europe when aristocrats started to suffer hair-loss as a result of syphilis, which had spread from the New World. Barristers’ wigs have a more crew-cut look; as we shall see, this is highly significant.
My first thought is that the solicitors are being a bit pathetic in wanting to wear wigs in court lest jurors regard them as less important than barristers. Then I read Bar boss Ramanathan’s jeering about how the solicitors are being insecure, and it occurs to me that maybe the solicitors have a point. Who is being insecure here? A self-confident, laid-back barrister would say to a solicitor adversary, “Sure, wear anything you want.” At best, the barristers are suffering sumptuary law syndrome, where one class of infantile inadequates forbids another from wearing the same clothing, to make themselves feel important. At worst, barristers suspect the solicitors are correct in thinking that jurors will favour the arguments emanating from beneath the grimy rolls of grey horsehair.
My solution of Solomon-like wisdom and fairness is this: either all advocates in a court must agree to wear identical (or no) headgear, or they must all conceal the tops and sides of their heads with Park N Shop plastic bags. Simple.