Yet again I am indebted to my Canadian friend John deP. Wright for this interesting snippet of English legal history.
The junior barrister’s gown
The junior barrister’s gown is distinctive and its use should be limited to accredited lawyers. A number of years ago the Ontario Attorney General’s Department issued a revised courtroom procedure manual that stipulated that Court Registrars were to wear “a properly fitted barrister’s black waistcoat and gown”. For a time this was read as meaning “a barrister’s black vest and a barrister’s gown.” This was corrected and courtroom staff now have their own dress. What makes the barrister’s gown distinctive is the appendage that hangs on the back and extends as a tube over the left shoulder. Some say this was originally a purse.
The Myth of the Barrister’s “Purse”
At one time it was considered that:
“The gown of an English [junior] barrister has traditionally a fold in the back, [said to be] in memory of the original pocket into which his fees were dropped. The counsel was not supposed to be able to see it. He could not sue for his fee in an English court, as it was an honorarium for his services and was usually placed into his gown pocket before he undertook the pleading. If the barrister chose to retain the fee, but not carry out his obligation, no power could bring him to book for such an offence”.
(Hay: Book of Legal Anecdotes (1989) p.255)
A tube of material runs from this “purse”, over the left shoulder and hangs down above the chest. It is described as a “tippet” and it is called a liripipe.
(The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary).
The story was that when the barrister wanted a “refresher” he would throw the liripipe over his shoulder where his client would feed coins into it.
The little black appendage now worn by barristers over the left shoulder is not of medieval origin as some have supposed. It was never a purse. It is the remnant of a mourning hood assumed on the death of Charles II in 1685.
(Professor Sir John Baker QC (Hon): The Order of Serjeants at Law, p.68)