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Barristers swap horsehair for hemp as they try out vegan court wigs

Vegan court wigs are being trialled after a barrister sold 10 hemp-based headpieces to colleagues as an alternative to the typically worn horsehair wig.

As recipients head to the courtroom in his biodegradable invention, junior barrister at 9 King’s Bench Walk, Samuel March, said his ambition to shake up the Bar’s 200-year-old tradition of wearing horsehair wigs in court is now in the “testing phase”.

A Cambridge graduate, Mr March first unveiled his plans for a biodegradable hemp wig a year ago, when he posted on Twitter and LinkedIn: “The prototype has arrived. This is the world’s first hemp barrister’s wig.” At the time, he envisaged the product to be in production by the end of the year and to be the norm within courtrooms in the space of “a few years”.

Mr March said that before he pushes ahead with a larger launch, he is checking the wigs can stand the test of time with a small number of barristers He said: “Hemp is a notoriously tough material, so I do not anticipate any issues, but there is always a risk where you’re the first in the world to try something. Making them here [in the UK] on this scale and price point means my market is largely limited to vegan barristers, which is a small ­market – but one that I intend to keep selling to.”

Mr March said he sold the first batch of wigs through “robing room word of mouth” and social media but is exploring selling new batches through the UK’s first legal outfitter for women, Ivy & Normanton.

The news of the trial of Mr March’s first batch of vegan wigs emerged just days after a high-profile black barrister called for an end to the “culturally insensitive” and “ridiculous” 17th-century wig-wearing tradition.

Leslie Thomas QC told Sky News the wig “represents and signifies the culturally insensitive climate” of the Bar. He made the comments after Michael Etienne, a barrister who has an afro, was told he must wear a wig in court. Mr Thomas said the argument that a wig anonymises barristers and symbolises authority is “nonsense” as the headpiece “isn’t covering your face, it’s on top of your head”.

Horsehair wigs were invented in 1822 by Humphrey Ravenscroft, whose company still manufactures court attire.