Former Chief Justice, Sophia Akuffo, has revealed why she opposes certain reforms at the bar, especially reforms that sought to pressure lawyers to ditch the wig and gown they wear during court proceedings.
According to the immediate past Chief Justice, her resistance to the call is partly informed by her keen observation some two decades ago.
Speaking on Asaase Radio’s “Sunday Night”, hosted by Kwaku Sakyi-Addo, she revealed that twenty years ago, there was an attempt to relax the wearing of wigs but that did not turn out well.
“I did notice…when somewhere in the early 2000s it was decided at least to do without the wig – so lawyers will wear the gown and not the wig – people became increasingly casual,” she recalls.
According to her, it was not through their dressing that Ghanaian lawyers became a bit too casual, but it was also evident in the way they addressed the court and presented their cases in the chamber.
“It reaches a point where people become casual not only in dressing; it begins to reflect even in the way they deliver. Suddenly colloquialism is copping up in the lawyer’s address to the court,” she bemoaned.
According to her, that is unacceptable because the law represents an entity that is higher and bigger than any individual.
“When you are a lawyer representing people in the court, you are working for the client but you are also working for the law as an entity; as a national value,” she said.
The former Chief Justice has been an ardent advocate for adhering to what some call the colonial relic of wearing wigs and gowns in courtrooms.
In 2017 when she was the CJ, she caused outrage among some lawyers when she released a notice, warning judges and lawyers to wear wigs in courtrooms.
The then CJ explained that the directive was meant to “preserve the tradition and uniqueness of the work of Judges and the legal profession.”
Speaking to Kwaku Sakyi-Addo, she said when the gown and wig are taken off, “something begins to depart from the gravity” of the affairs being conducted in the courtrooms.
“Somebody is sitting at the bar – the lawyer bar, not the drinking bar – and he is sitting almost like he is in the drinking bar and he is chewing gum,” she recalls yet another observation.
There have been arguments for judges to drop the use of the robes, wigs, wing collars and bands.
Some of these have been scrapped in some advanced countries including Ghana’s colonial masters, Britain, who passed on the practice to the countries they governed.
The centuries-old tradition since the 17th century was abandoned in Britain more than a decade ago and countries such as Australia and Canada who copied the practice from Britain have followed suit.