One of the seemingly ever-lasting effects of British colonialism is the wearing of gowns and wigs in the judiciary systems of African countries. It was a tradition that was not meant for the African landscape, and yet, this tradition is still being adhered to religiously.
However, the Malawi High Court recently took a departure from this strict stance on the legal tradition as it suspended the wearing of wigs and gowns by judges and lawyers. The country's highest court said that this move is a temporary one. The heatwave in the country makes it extremely difficult for members of the legal sphere to work, and such a suspension is a welcome development.
Being a former British colony, Malawi is one of the several African countries that still clings to the tradition of wearing wigs and robes in the courtroom. In all honesty, such a tradition is an absurd and obsolete one that only serves to reinforce the legacies of colonialism that do not give space for African ideas to flourish.
Temperatures in some parts of Malawi have reached 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit), according to the Department of Meteorological Services in Malawi.
Chikosa Silungwe, one of the lawyers working in the capital Malawi said, "It's simple really. The heatwave this week meant that the gowns and wigs were uncomfortable," speaking to Reuters.
The plan is to restore the wearing of wigs and gowns when the temperatures have gone down. The registrar for Malawi's high court and a judicial spokeswoman, Agnes Patemba, said that the heatwave compelled the court to do away with the wigs and gowns, and that this is not the first time this has been done. Temperatures have been incessantly rising, and concerns stemming from climate change are reigning supreme.
The wearing of wigs and gowns is a tradition that does not sit well with some Africans. Some want such traditions to be abolished totally. Even if some lawyers and judicial officers despise the wigs and the robes, they face stiff opposition from the legal bodies that enforce legal ethics and there is an over-emphasis on "preserving the tradition." Another argument in support of keeping the wigs and gowns is that the wearing of these is symbolic. Since the long wigs of the judges cover both ears, the presumption is that the judge’s ears are shut to both parties in the matter to prevent bias. Hence, there is impartiality and the judge only acts as a referee.
The roots of this unenviable tradition stem from the reign of King Edward III in the United Kingdom when the judiciary established "court dressing" which was endorsed by the Judges Rules of 1635. The wigs, called perukes, were fashioned in the 17th century under King Charles II. It was a method of differentiating the elite from the ordinary persons. And because of colonialism, these wigs and robes found their way to Africa. Instead, there should be a unique African dress code for such legal purposes.
Header image credit - Associated Press