Judges wearing their traditional costumes and wigs parade into the Hong Kong Catholic Cathedral.

Hong Kong -

Hong Kong's lawyers were on Tuesday embroiled in a legal wrangle with a difference - over whether solicitors should be allowed to don horse-hair wigs traditionally worn by barristers in court, according to reports.

While only barristers and judges are currently allowed to wear the curled, 17th century-style wigs, the city's Law Society says solicitors should be able to wear them during certain hearings, the South China Morning post reported.

Following a rule change that will soon allow solicitors to represent clients in the High Court and the Court of Final Appeal, the Society fears jurors may see their wig-wearing contemporaries as more authoritative, leading to prejudice in criminal trials.

Stephen Hung Wan-shun, chairman of the Law Society's criminal law and procedure panel, said allowing solicitors to wear the same attire would eliminate the chance of a jury being influenced.

“Our biggest concern is criminal hearings involving a jury. We would like to avoid any chances (of prejudice or unfairness),” he was quoted by the Post as saying.

The Bar Association, which represents more than 1 100 barristers, however, reacted angrily to the suggestion, dismissing the possibility of prejudice and blasting the Law Society's stance as “insecurity”.

“If they want to wear wigs, why don't they call to the bar?” Kumar Ramanathan was reported by the Post as saying.

The horse-hair wig for Hong Kong barristers is a throwback to the English legal system, which saw headpieces introduced in court at the end of the 17th century, following the fashions of the day.

As they fell out of favour in wider society and among professions including coachmen and bishops, they were retained in the legal sphere.

The legal profession in Britain has for some years debated whether to axe the headgear and adopt a more modern dress code.