From Wig to Courtroom: Tracing the Evolution of Barristers in UK Legal System

An Introduction to the UK legal system

The United Kingdom has a long and rich legal history that dates back centuries, one of the strengths of the modern UK being the separation of Government, Law and Enforcement. At the heart of this system are barristers, legal professionals who play a vital role in the administration of justice. From their distinctive attire to their rigorous training, barristers embody the traditions and values of the UK legal system. In this article, we will explore the evolution of barristers in the UK, from their origins to their modern-day role in the courtroom.

The role of barristers in the UK legal system

Barristers are legal professionals who specialise in advocacy and litigation. Unlike solicitors, who primarily provide legal advice and handle the day-to-day aspects of a case, barristers focus on courtroom advocacy and represent clients in higher courts. They are also often called upon to provide expert legal opinions and represent clients in complex, high-profile cases. They are an integral part of the UK legal system, ensuring that justice is served and the rule of law is upheld.

The history and origins of barristers in the UK

The origins of barristers can be traced back to medieval times in England. In the early days, legal representation was not a profession but rather a duty of the nobility. However, the need for specialised legal advocates arose as the legal system became more complex. This led to the emergence of barristers as a distinct group of legal professionals. The word “barrister” is believed to have originated from the Middle English word “barre,” which means a partition or barrier. This term was used to describe the physical separation between lawyers and judges in the courtroom.

The evolution of barristers’ attire and wigs

One of the most distinctive aspects of a barrister’s appearance is their attire, which includes a traditional black gown and a wig. The origins of these garments can be traced back to the 17th century when the upper classes wore them as a symbol of prestige and authority, while also, some say being a way to make them less recognisable outside of the courtroom, this being especially important when they had just ruled against someone or helped A win over B, the parties concerned not being happy about it all. Over time, the attire became standardised and is now an integral part of a barrister’s professional identity. The wig, in particular, symbolises the historical connection between the legal profession and the nobility. Although wigs are no longer mandatory in all courtrooms, they are still commonly worn in more formal settings.

The training and qualifications required to become a barrister

Becoming a barrister in the UK requires a rigorous and highly specialised training process. After completing a law degree, aspiring barristers must undertake the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), which provides them with the necessary practical skills and knowledge to practice as a barrister. Following the BPTC, aspiring barristers must complete a pupillage, which is a period of supervised work experience under the guidance of an experienced barrister, this normally taking place in what are known as Barristers Chambers. Individuals can be called to the Bar and become qualified barristers only after successfully completing these stages.

The daily life of a barrister in the UK

The daily life of a barrister is demanding and varied. They often spend their days in courtrooms, representing clients, presenting legal arguments, and cross-examining witnesses. Outside of court, barristers spend significant time researching and preparing cases, drafting legal documents, and meeting with clients. The nature of their work means that barristers must often handle multiple cases simultaneously, requiring exceptional time management and organisational skills. Additionally, barristers are expected to stay up-to-date with changes in the law and engage in continuing professional development.

Notable barristers in UK legal history

Throughout the history of the UK legal system, many notable barristers have made significant contributions to the field of law. One such figure is Sir Thomas More, who served as a barrister before becoming Lord Chancellor of England. More is best known for his principled stand against King Henry VIII’s divorce and subsequent break from the Catholic Church. Another notable barrister is Sir William Garrow, who played a pivotal role in the development of the adversarial system and the rights of the accused. These individuals and many others have shaped the legal landscape in the UK and left a lasting impact on the profession.

Challenges and criticisms faced by barristers in the modern legal system

While barristers are highly respected professionals, they face a number of challenges and criticisms in the modern legal system. One such challenge is the increasing commercialisation of the legal profession, which can place pressure on barristers to prioritise financial considerations over the pursuit of justice. Additionally, the high costs of legal education and the limited availability of pupillage opportunities can create barriers to entry for aspiring barristers. Furthermore, barristers are often subject to long and unpredictable working hours, which can impact their work-life balance and mental well-being.

The future of barristers in the UK legal system

As the UK legal system continues to evolve, so will barristers’ role. With advancements in technology and changes in societal attitudes towards the legal profession, barristers will need to adapt and embrace new ways of working. This may include a greater emphasis on alternative dispute resolution methods, such as mediation and arbitration, as well as the use of digital technologies to streamline court processes. While the future may bring challenges, barristers will undoubtedly remain an essential pillar of the UK legal system, upholding the principles of justice and ensuring access to legal representation for all.


The evolution of barristers in the UK legal system is a testament to the enduring traditions and values that underpin the administration of justice. From their origins as a distinct group of legal professionals to their modern-day role in the courtroom, barristers have played a pivotal role in upholding the rule of law and ensuring access to justice. While the legal landscape continues to change, barristers will undoubtedly continue to adapt and serve as trusted advocates for their clients. As we look towards the future, it is clear that barristers will remain an integral part of the UK legal system, safeguarding the principles of justice and equality for all.

Sarah Evans