Thursday 17 April 2014

Setting the benchmark for style as judges step out in €681 Louise Kennedy gowns

Sketches for proposed judicial robes for the new Irish State, prepared by Charles Shannon for Chief Justice Kennedy

THE judges of the Supreme Court have blazed a fashion trail by stepping out on to the bench in new gowns designed by fashion guru Louise Kennedy.

The new European-style court attire consists of a simple black robe, with two green bands on the sleeves and a white tab at the neck.

Made with a light wool fabric, it comes with a price tag of €681.

That eye-watering bill is still over €1,000 less than their current costumes, which cost €1,886 and are paid for by the taxpayer.

Despite their new-found status as fashion trailblazers, the judges declined to be photographed in their new outfits yesterday.

Award-winning designer Louise Kennedy was originally commissioned six years ago, at a reputed cost of €50,000, to revamp the attire of the entire judiciary.

Her designs were first unveiled to the judges in 2009 and featured different colour bands on the sleeves to designate the different courts.

However, the wheels of justice move very slowly when it comes to fashion and three years later, the eight Supreme Court judges have now become the first to don the new robes.

The remaining 100 or more judges at District, Circuit and High Court level will continue to wear the old gowns. Any change in their clothes must first be approved by the judges at each separate level of the courts.

The new robes will not be available in shops and each one is made to order by L'Artisan Costumier, a Paris fashion outlet which specialises in legal garments.

Chief Justice Mrs Justice Susan Denham, who is among the eight to adopt the new style, said the old costume was an outfit "rooted in a previous, historical regime".

Judges and barristers have been wearing black robes since 1685 when the English Bar went into mourning at the death of King Charles II.

It is not the first time the judiciary has tried to break free from Charles II's grip.

Hugh Kennedy, who became the first Chief Justice of the Irish Free State in 1924, tried to introduce a new set of robes to sweep away the English tradition and reflect the costumes worn by the ancient celtic judges known as 'Brehons'.

Judge Kennedy, an opponent of judge's wigs, obtained sketches from the English artist and theatre designer Charles Shannon.

But his colleagues and the Cabinet of the day poured scorn upon them and they were never made.

Judges have largely abandoned wearing wigs, the use of which became optional last year under new laws introduced by Justice Minister Alan Shatter.

Irish Independent

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