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Court traditions

Judicial attire

Judicial attire in its present form dates from about 1660, the time of the Restoration of the English monarchy. Upon the return of Charles II from France, the fashion of the Court of Louis XIV for powdered wigs became de rigeur for the smart members of English society. The judicial robe and barrister's gown developed much earlier. By the time of Edward III (1327-77), fur and silk-lined robes were well established as a mark of high judicial office. Judicial costume changed with the seasons, generally green in the summer and violet in the winter, with red reserved for special occasions.

The plain black gown was adopted by most barristers in 1685 when the Bar went into mourning at the death of King Charles II. By the late sixteenth century, however, all members of the legal profession wore round black skullcaps to court, with the white edges of the coif sticking out underneath. When wigs were introduced, judicial wigs had a small version of the skullcap and coif sewn into them. Law students, not yet entitled to wear wigs, continued to wear the legal skullcap for some time after the introduction of wigs, but by the early eighteenth century, it had disappeared completely.

The tipstaff

The tipstaff may often by seen holding a staff and walking in front of a High Court or Supreme Court judge. Their role originates from the early Law Enforcement Officers who would apprehend the person intended for arrest by enforcing, if necessary, their duty with a tipped staff. The staff was made of wood or metal or both, topped with a crown. The crown, which unscrewed, was removed to reveal a warrant of arrest inside the hollow staff. Some staffs were definitely a means of protection and this is where the present day policeman's truncheon originates.

Visitors to the Four Courts in Dublin will notice the judges of the High Court and the Supreme Court being escorted to and from court by their tipstaff. While carrying a staff is part ceremonial and the continuation of a long tradition, it is also recognised by those who work in the courts and helps to allow easy passage through the crowded Round Hall and corridors. On reaching the court the tipstaff will request order in the courtroom as the judge takes his or her place on the Bench. Tipstaffs have worked in the Four Courts since it opened in 1796.

The daily function of the tipstaff is that of assistant to the judge, as he or she carried out their judicial duties - this also involves working outside of court hours and can include driving the judge to various engagements and to sittings of the High Court at provincial venues.

Judges of the Circuit Court are assisted by 'criers'. They perform the same duties as tipstaffs but do not carry a staff when going to or from the courts in the Four Courts.