Judicial gowns and wigs must be customized

Wed, 29 Nov 2017 Source: Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.

The directive given by Chief Justice Sophia AB Akuffo for all members of the bench to wear their traditional British-inherited wigs and gowns to work, has the positive impact of infusing discipline into this cardinal profession

(See “Okudzeto [sic] Backs CJ’s Wig Fiat” Classfmonline.com / Ghanaweb.com 11/1/17).

But, of course, as was to be expected, some members of the legal profession came out swinging against the decision. For instance, the well-known lawyer and political activist Mr. Ace Anan Ankomah, of #Occupy Ghana fame, was of the view that the directive took the profession at least “One-thousand steps backwards.”

On the other hand, Mr. Samuel AwukuOkudjeto, the distinguished member of Ghana’s Council-of-State and past President of the Ghana Bar Association (GBA), thinks that there is a certain measure of professional and familial pride that comes with wearing the judicial wig and gown.

“When lawyers are being enrolled, they all enjoy it when their parents [and relatives] see them fully robed in their gowns and wigs. That’s the pride that the family gets,” Mr. Okudjeto was quoted to have said to a radio talk-show interviewer recently.

The renowned lawyer added, “I know some people who want to be lawyers but who don’t even want to go to court, or practice law, who all they are interested in is to wear that wig and gown, so that, that mark of distinction would be [conferred] upon them.”

That, of course, is all well and good. As well, one cannot fault 82-year-old Mr. Sam Okudjeto for feeling a deep sense of professional kinship with lawyers of other nationalities that were once ruled by British colonial administrators like modern Ghanaians.

For me, though, and I am not a lawyer, the directive by Chief Justice Akuffo that all judges and lawyers wear the traditional wigs and gowns, while perfectly in synch with professional praxis, nevertheless, has one drawback. And it is the fact that these judicial attires or wigs and gowns need to be adapted to cultures and climates that are very different from the one in which this long and hallowed tradition evolved, to make such carryover all the more relevant.

There is also an economic side of the directive which I am looking at, for colonial imperialism also comes with the added benefit, or bonus, to the colonizer or imperialist of creating markets for entrepreneurs and manufacturers of the conquering nation or colonizers.

In short, these gowns and wigs have to be imported at relatively higher costs than if they were manufactured in the former British-ruled economies or countries.

In other words, having weaned ourselves from the cultural and intellectual apron strings of the former Mother Country or Crown, reader, you choose your pick, it becomes imperative to match such political independence with socioeconomic and cultural independence as well.

And so perhaps what needs to be done is to have the Chief Justice, or the Judicial Council, float out a sartorial or couturier call or competition, whereby Ghanaian clothes designers would be asked to submit sartorial impressions or designs for members of the bench and the bar that they deem to be more environmentally and culturally friendly or appropriate and suitable. On this count, there are two benefits to be had, namely, job creation for a local manufacturing plant or two whose owners would then be contracted to supply members of the legal profession, as well as our tertiary academies, with their official uniforms. And two, the indispensable maintenance of the sort of solemnity or respect and discipline attendant to the practice of the judicial and legal profession as a whole.

This suggestion, we must promptly note, is hardly a new idea. This was what President Kwame Nkrumah’s concept of “Africanization,” in the wake of Ghana’s glorious reassertion of her sovereignty from British colonial rule, was squarely about. Here, also, the pride of profession that Mr. Okudjeto talks about becomes even more significantly enhanced, because it is organically adaptive or customized to reflect the moral and cultural environment of the legal and judicial praxis.

Columnist: Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.