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Fashion guru revamps judges' robes

FASHION guru Louise Kennedy has been commissioned by the Chief Justice to create an unprecedented new range of designer robes for the country's judges.

Samples of the robes were unveiled last week by John Murray, the Chief Justice, during a judicial training day in Adare, Co Limerick.

The sample designs were put on show hours before the Revenue Commissioners revealed that only 19 out of the country's 149 judges have so far opted for a voluntary pay cut in lieu of the public service pension levy.

And it is feared that the cost of the inaugural judicial makeover could lead to the project, the brainchild of Judge Murray, being put on hold until the public finances improve.

The Irish Independent has learned that Louise Kennedy, one of Ireland's leading designers, is putting the finishing touches to the robes following the sample showing in Adare.

Kennedy has already won critical acclaim for her 1997 revamp of uniforms for Aer Lingus staff, which are still in use today and is the second celebrity designer to be asked to overhaul judges' working dress in recent years, following a makeover in the UK last year.

Legal history will be made if the Kennedy designs are approved as it would mark the first time in over 300 years that judges ditch their horsehair wigs for more modern attire.

The last effort to change judicial attire occurred in the mid- 1920s when Hugh Kennedy -- the first Chief Justice of the Irish Free State -- sought to break from away from the English tradition by introducing an exclusive Irish range of robes.


According to Judge Kennedy's papers, there is correspondence on the planned design of judicial robes between Kennedy, William Butler Yeats and printmaker Charles Shannon. But the project did not attract political approval.

The judicial path to modernity is not an easy or cost efficient one. Last year, when English judges ditched their wigs for civil cases and adopted a single continental-style black gown created by fashion designer Betty Jackson, many judges were appalled.

Former Lord Chief Justice Nicholas Phillips scrapped the old style wig and gown worn by Irish judges because he felt it made the judiciary look old fashioned and out of touch with the 21st century.

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One critic even went so far to say that the celebrity Jackson robes, with pockets, snap fasteners and an "ingenious" colour coded ranking system, were "a cross between a Star Trek costume and a fascist storm trooper's uniform".

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