[Images are two stills from TV series The wire, with subtitles. McNulty is sitting in an office grinning, saying, ‘Pro forma, from the Latin… meaning lawyers jacking each other off’.]
Relevant to at least three of my interests.
This story is a few days old but I haven’t seen it mentioned on any of the (admittedly few) tumblrs I follow so I thought it might be worth posting.
I find this interesting partly because I did a bit of research on stable unions (as these registered relationships are called in Brazil) recently. Please note that I don’t know very much about it, and I know almost nothing about Brazil and its culture and legal system, so don’t set too much store by what I say here, especially if anyone who is actually from Brazil says something different.
But, as I understand it, the legal recognition of stable unions comes from article 226 paragraph 3 of the Brazilian constitution (English-language PDF version here), which says that ‘the stable union between a man and a woman is recognized as a family entity’. In 2011 (in two linked cases called ADI 4277 and ADPF 132) the Federal Supreme Court ruled that the restriction of stable unions to ‘a man and a woman’ was unconstitutional and all couples should be able to register stable unions and gain the accompanying legal rights and benefits. The Court didn’t rule on same-sex marriage.
Article 226 paragraph 3 also says that ‘the law shall facilitate the conversion of such entity [i.e. a stable union] into marriage’. Putting this together with the ruling in ADI 4277 and ADPF 132, some courts have allowed some same-sex couples in stable unions to convert their unions into marriages. This seems to be patchy: Wikipedia lists some cases where it has happened. The issue doesn’t seem to have come before the Federal Supreme Court yet.
So the interesting thing about this news story is that it raises the possibility of a similar path for polyamorous relationships. In this case the union has been registered by a public notary, which is not the same as being recognized by a court (let alone by the Federal Supreme Court). But when the CNN article quotes a lawyer as saying that ‘It goes directly against the constitution [because] [m]onogamy is defined as relations between two, not three or four or five’, that lawyer seems to be ignoring the fact that the constitution also defines a stable union as being between a man and a woman, and that hasn’t stopped the law from recognizing same-sex stable unions and even, in some cases, same-sex marriages. But equally this shouldn’t be relied on by ‘slippery slope’ arguers as evidence that same-sex marriage leads inevitably to polygamous marriage, marriage with animals, marriage between a cactus, a petrol station, and a hyper-intelligent shade of the colour blue, &c. All legal systems are perfectly capable of drawing distinctions between different things, and the case-law on same-sex stable unions doesn’t make recognition of polyamorous stable unions inevitable or even especially likely. But this particular public notary obviously thinks that the same logic can and should be applied, and time will tell whether that idea is palatable to Brazilian law. One to watch, perhaps.
The people thinking about the year 2000 were doing a much better job than early programmers and computer engineers I guess.
So it seems! I guess it’s forgivable in a way — computer technology develops so rapidly that you can sort of understand people not expecting their work to last more than a few years, whereas legislation can remain in force for a very long time indeed (as we’ve seen!) and the people who draft it try to make sure it keeps working for as long as it’s needed.
At work at the moment I’m doing an urgent but unfortunately pretty boring project that involves searching through lots of legislation. Occasionally the boredom is alleviated by the discovery of some entertainingly old Acts of Parliament that are still in force as part of UK law.
You can go back a century or so and the legislation is still fairly comprehensible, although sometimes the sentences get quite long and full of sub-clauses. Here’s section 16 of the Commons Act 1899, for example:
Any provisions with respect to allotments for recreation grounds, field gardens, or other public or parochial purposes contained in any Act relating to inclosure or in any award or order made in pursuance thereof, and any provisions with respect to the management of any such allotments contained in any such Act, order, or award, may, on the application of any district or parish council interested in any such allotment, be dealt with by a scheme of the Charity Commissioners in the exercise of their ordinary jurisdiction, as if those provisions had been established by the founder in the case of a charity having a founder.
Back in the earlier part of the nineteenth century it can get a bit tricky to follow:
In every case where any tithes or rent-charge shall have been or shall hereafter be released, assigned, or otherwise conveyed or disposed of under the provisions of the said Acts, or any of them, or of this Act, for merging or extinguishing the same, the lands in which such merger or extinguishment shall take effect shall be subject to any charge, incumbrance, or liability which lawfully existed on such tithes or rent-charge, previous to such merger to, the extent of the value of such tithes or rent-charge; and any such charge, incumbrance, or liability shall have priority over any charge or incumbrance existing on such lands at the time of such merger taking effect; and such lands, and the owners thereof for the time being, shall be liable to the same remedies for the recovery of any payment and the performance of any duty in respect of such charge, incumbrance, or liability, or of any penalty or damages for nonpayment or non performance thereof respectively, as the said tithes or rent-charge, or the owner thereof for the time being, were or was liable to previous to such merger.
(That’s section 1 of the Tithe Act 1839.)
By the time you reach, say, section 2 of the Calendar (New Style) Act 1750, the prose is becoming rather epic:
And for the continuing and preserving the calendar or method of reckoning, and computing the days of the year in the same regular course, as near as may be, in all times coming, the several years of our Lord one thousand eight hundred, one thousand nine hundred, two thousand one hundred, two thousand two hundred, two thousand three hundred, or any other hundredth years of our Lord which shall happen in time to come, except only every fourth hundredth year of our Lord, whereof the year of our Lord two thousand shall be the first, shall not be esteemed or taken to be bissextile or leap years, but shall be taken to be common years consisting of three hundred and sixty-five days, and no more; and that the years of our Lord two thousand, two thousand four hundred, two thousand eight hundred, and every other fourth hundredth year of our Lord from the said year of our Lord two thousand inclusive, and also all other years of our Lord which by the present supputation are esteemed to be bissextile or leap years, shall for the future and in all times to come be esteemed and taken to be bissextile or leap years, consisting of three hundred and sixty-six days, in the same sort and manner as is now used with respect to every fourth year of our Lord.
(Also how weird is it to think that in 1750 there were people not only thinking about but actually passing legislation about what’s going to happen in the year 2800?)
By the Cestui que Vie Act 1707 they seem to have developed a love of capital letters and a terror of punctuation:
And if it shall appear to the said Court by Affidavit that such Minor Married Woman or other Person for such Life such Estate is holden is or lately was at some certain Place beyond the Seas in the said Affidavit to be mentioned it shall and may be lawful for the Party or Parties prosecuting such Order as aforesaid at his her or their Costs and Charges to send over one or both the said Persons appointed by the said Order to view such Minor Married woman or other Person for whose Life any such Estate is holden and in case such Guardian Trustee Husband or other Person concealing or suspected to conceal such Persons as aforesaid shall refuse or neglect to produce or procure to be produced to such Person or Persons a personal View of such Infant Married Woman or other Person for whose Life any such Estate is holden that then and in such Case such Person or Persons are hereby required to make a true Return of such Refusal or Neglect to the Court of Chancery which Return shall be filed in the Petty Bag Office and thereupon such Minor Married Woman or other Person for whose Life any such Estate is holden shall be taken to be dead and it shall be lawful for any Person claiming any Right Title or Interest in Remainder Reversion or otherwise after the Death of such Infant Married Woman or other Person for whose Life any such Estate is holden to enter upon such Lands Tenements and Hereditaments as if such Infant Married Woman or other Person for whose Life any such Estate is holden were actually dead.
That was section 2, or section II as they called it back then. And here’s section I of another Cestui que Vie Act: this one’s from 1666, where the spelling is starting to get kinda funky:
If such person or persons for whose life or lives such Estates have beene or shall be granted as aforesaid shall remaine beyond the Seas or elsewhere absent themselves in this Realme by the space of seaven yeares together and noe sufficient and evident proofe be made of the lives of such person or persons respectively in any Action commenced for recovery of such Tenements by the Lessors or Reversioners in every such case the person or persons upon whose life or lives such Estate depended shall be accounted as naturally dead, And in every Action brought for the recovery of the said Tenements by the Lessors or Reversioners their Heires or Assignes, the Judges before whom such Action shall be brought shall direct the Jury to give their Verdict as if the person soe remaining beyond the Seas or otherwise absenting himselfe were dead.
Funky spelling abounds in section XIV of the Ecclesiastical Licences Act 1533 (which is also so old that there are variant texts of it and it has textual annotations like you get in fancy editions of Shakespeare):
Provyded alway that the seid Archebisshopp of Canterburye or any other person or persons shall have noo power or auctoritie by reason of this acte to vysite or vexe any Monasteries Abbeys Priories Colleges Hospitallis Houses or other places religious whiche be or were exempte before the makyng of this acte, any thynge in this acte to the contrary therof not withstondyng; but that redresse vicitacion and confirmacion shalbe had by the Kynges Highnes hys heires and successours by commission under the greate seale to be directed to suche persones as shalbe appoynted requysite for the same, in such monasteries colleges Hospitals Priories Houses and Places religious exempt; So that noo visitacion [X36 nor confirmacion] shall frome hensforth be had nor made in or at any suche Monasteries Colleges Hospitallis Priories Houses and Places religious exempt by the sayd Bysshop of Rome nor by any of his auctoryte nor by any out of the Kynges Domynyons; Nor that any person religious or other resiant in any the Kynges Dominyons shall fromhensforth departe out of the Kynges Domynyons to or for any visitacion congregacion or assemble for Religeon, but that all suche visytacyons congregatyons & assembles shalbe within the Kynges Domynyons.
I’d like to also give a special shout-out here to the Scottish Parliament, which around this time was producing some pretty radical spelling of its own, like the short and sweet Reversion Act 1469:
Item As tuiching the new Inuentionis of selling of landis be chartir and sesing and takin again of Reuersionis And It happin the byare to sell again the samyn land to ane vthir persone It is now sene expedient in this present parliament and according to law and conscience that the sellare sall haue Recourse to the samyn landis sauld be him vnder lettre of Reuersione to quhatsumeuir handis the said lettre cummys payand the mone and schawand the Reuersione and haue sic priuelege and fredome aganis the personis that haldis the said landis as he suld haue again the principale first byare …
Folks, to be perfectly honest, I’m not even sure whether that’s in English or in Scots. But I’ll tell you what definitely is not in English, and that’s any Act of the English Parliament before the mid-fifteenth century. Check out the Confirmation of Liberties Act 1423:
Et primes q~ Seinte Esglise & toutz les frs esp~uelx & temporelx & toutz les autres lieges du Roy aiantz liƀtees & fraunchises & auxi toutz les Citees & Burgħs aient & enjoient toutz lour liƀtees & fraunchises bien usez & nient repellez ne p_ la cõe ley repellablez,
And, well, it can’t really get much more funky than that, but can we just finish by appreciating that the Statute of Marlborough 1267 — **1267** — is still valid law in this country.
I mean what.
I was at the UK Supreme Court a couple of weeks ago for a hearing, and in court 1 they have carved wooden benches. Some of the benches have the busts of English monarchs carved on the ends. And, Tumblr, I’ve got to tell you, it’s a pretty weird selection of English monarchs. Here’s the complete list. I’ll ease you in with the less surprising ones:
Honestly, this is nobody’s list of Top Eight English Sovereigns. Can anybody help me out about what they could possibly have in common that would justify choosing them (and excluding others) to decorate the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom? Because I’m stumped.
It’s funny how the unconscious mind makes connexions.
I often become aware of some song or other running through my head and then realize, after letting it play through, that it has some lyrical snippet or theme that relates to what I’m doing or thinking about.
I’ve spent much of today, for instance, researching how English law was imposed on British colonies in the Caribbean. And then an hour or two later I noticed I was humming a song that I haven’t heard or thought about for months. I was puzzled until I remembered what the song is about — the Falklands war…
Shipbuilding by Elvis Costello (written by Costello and Clive Langer) is worth a listen, if you don’t know it. Here’s a live performance that looks like it must be from near the time the record was released (1982). Lyrics here.
Summary: Replies about me wearing a barrister’s wig and gown.
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Why do they have that tradition anyway?
I’m not really sure. I think if you go back far enough it was just, like, what people wore. And then for some reasons they forgot to stop wearing it after everyone else stopped. And there are things about the gown, like supposedly there was a tradition that barristers didn’t deal with vulgar things like money so the gowns had little hood things hanging down the back and solicitors (who sit behind the barristers) would drop the fee into the hood. But nowadays the hood is just a flat piece of funny-shaped fabric on one side of the gown.
They had a consultation recently about whether to get rid of wigs (which are now only generally worn in the criminal and appellate courts) but a majority of barristers wanted to keep them. Common arguments are that they give a measure of anonymity (for barristers who annoy people in court) or homogeneity (to go with the idea that barristers are all basically interchangeable, which is also embodied in the ‘cab rank rule’, which is the rule that a barrister is obliged to accept any case that they’re competent and available to do, regardless of whether they like it or believe in the client’s case), that clients see them on television and therefore expect them and feel short-changed if they don’t get them, and maybe some other ones I’ve forgotten. The anonymity one sounds silly but actually when you’ve only ever seen a barrister in a wig they do look quite different without it. And when you’ve been in court all day and everyone’s been in wigs and then you go outside and see the same people without their wigs it seems weirdly improper and almost indecent — ‘That person has a hairstyle! Expressive of their individuality and style! Disgraceful!’
I dunno, it’s odd and silly.
I’ve seen said pictures of Jamie in robes and a wig. I laughed nastily at it in front of him and his mother, because I am charming and delightful. Also, fun fact: the same company that supplies the wigs and robes also did my graduation gown and hat.
Yeah, they specialize in odd archaic costumes like academic gowns and court dress.
pish, i bet it was madly charming. i mean, probably also silly! but as my partner has taught me, the two are often not mutually exclusive. :)
+10 points for use of ‘pish’.
I’m afraid I don’t really get into court because I’m a weird government-employed barrister who doesn’t get sent to court. Consequently I haven’t bought a wig or gown because those things are ridiculously expensive and I’m not buying them unless I really need them.
I have worn the whole get-up once, though, when I was ‘called to the Bar’, and my mum has some pictures but I haven’t got any in digital format to show you. You can imagine, though: I looked a bit silly.
The media coverage of this news story about bail has been completely ridiculous. The impression being given is that suddenly the police can’t bail suspects any more and will just have to let them go. Oh noes! Terrible! Horrifying! Not remotely true, however.
Here’s what’s happened. The powers of the police to detain people without charge come from the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. They can hold someone for up to thirty-six hours, then they have to apply to a court for an extension of up to thirty-six more hours. After that, you have to let them go unless you have new evidence, in which case you can re-arrest them. (Here’s the text of the relevant bit of the Act if you want.)
For twenty-five years, the police have been getting the extension, releasing the suspect on bail before the extension warrant ran out, and then some time later — weeks or months later maybe — taking the suspect back into custody for however long was left on the warrant. Which is fine unless you actually read the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, which makes it pretty flaming clear that the warrant is valid for thirty-six hours from the time when the suspect arrives at the police station. Not thirty-six hours that you can use in whatever chunks you like over any period.
The surprising thing here is not that a High Court judge has interpreted the Act in this way. The surprising thing is that nobody has interpreted it properly before. Seriously. I mean, it is a fairly complex bit of legislation and I wouldn’t expect someone without any legal training to find it obvious. But I would expect anyone upwards of an undergraduate in law to find it very difficult to come up with any other interpretation. I had to spend fifteen minutes after reading the ruling trying to find out what I’d missed that made it less obvious. (Answer: nothing.)
But that isn’t the point. The point is the consequences of the ruling. Which are unimpressive. The police can still detain people without charge for up to ninety-six hours. The police can still release people on bail after that, for as long as they want. And they can still re-arrest them after that, as long as they have some new evidence. What they can’t do is release them on bail and then re-arrest them just because they feel like it.
The thing is, you know, sometimes you can sympathize with journalists who hype up a story to sound more exciting than it is. They have to make a living, after all. But there is already a pretty dramatic story here that also has the benefit of actually being true. The story is not that the police have lost a crucial power and are now completely incapable of fighting crime effectively. The story is that the police have been detaining people for the last twenty-five years using a power they didn’t have.
Journalists. This is not difficult. Please try harder.
So the other day I grumbled irrelevantly at Dorian about the sign he saw on a bus referring to ‘persons with disabilities’, and I think Satah and Alex have both complained recently about politicians and other public speakers saying ‘women and men’ (or vice versa) to cover all human beings.
And you know what I think it is? I think a lot of western users of formal and high-register English regard the word ‘people’ as undignified. Which is seriously messed-up.
I don’t think they necessarily do it consciously. Learning register is a very very subtle process and if orators and official notices favour ‘persons’ and ‘men and women’ over ‘people’ then listeners and readers will pick up that ‘rule’ of formal language without even noticing it. But from now on I bet you’ll start to notice how rarely ‘people’ is used in formal western English compared to everyday conversation.
It’d be interesting to do a study and see how far back this goes and whether you can identify likely causes. I have a few guesses.
For one thing, the word ‘people’ does have an inherently slightly comical sound, like ‘beep’ or ‘weevil’. Another point is that, whatever the sound of the word, it’s a very common one, which is a disadvantage in high register. Elegant variation is more prized in formal language than in conversation so there has probably always been a tendency to look for alternatives to a word like ‘people’ that’s likely to come up several times in the same paragraph.
The go-to ‘synonym’ for ‘people’ of course used to be ‘men’, and I expect the current over-use of ‘women and men’ is the updated version of that, helped along by (mostly male) politicians’ desire to show that they have at last got their heads around (second-wave) feminism and the notion that women are people.‘Persons’ probably comes from legal language, which is of course very formal and tends to be regarded as prestigious. The fact that legal language is highly valued as sounding ‘educated’ and ‘dignified’ means that people, such as politicians and writers of official notices, who want to sound authoritative tend to use legal terms and phrases a lot. Unfortunately the fact that legal language tends to be highly technical and opaque means that non-lawyers tend to misunderstand and misuse it: in law, ‘persons’ is not a synonym for ‘people’ at all.
Back in the mists of time, ‘person’ had the connotation of individuality, especially in outward characteristics: the observable things that distinguish one human being from another. In those days this was especially linked to social rank and status. You can see a trace of that in the phrase ‘no respecter of persons’, which of course doesn’t mean someone who respects nobody but someone who treats everyone equally regardless of their different status or circumstances. But at a certain point the word ‘persons’ was hijacked for a particular legal purpose. What happened was that the law began to treat groups of people who formally cooperated for particular (usually economic) purposes as having the same legal status as individual human beings: these groups acquired what came to be called ‘legal personality’ — they became ‘persons’. Not people, but individual entities capable of holding legal rights. This linguistic development is shown very neatly by the way the fourteenth amendment to the US constitution, originally enacted to guarantee equal protection of law to all ‘persons’ including people of colour, was later used to seek legal rights for corporations.
Whatever the reasons for this aversion to ‘people’, it’s clearly pernicious. The popular alternatives are not synonyms, and using them as if they were is seriously problematic: ‘men and women’ erases not only non-binary people but also children, and ‘persons’ glosses over the fact that there are persons that are not human beings at all and should not be entitled to be treated as such. But perhaps even more fundamentally, ‘people’ is the word for people, and if we treat the word for something as insufficiently dignified for high-flown language then we call into question the dignity of the thing itself. Using ‘women and men’ or ‘persons’ in stead of ‘people’ sends out the unconscious signal that gender or legal personality are characteristics that make human beings more prestigious and worthy than if they were just ‘people’, and any alternative word or phrase that concentrates on some particular aspect of human life is going to have a similar effect of implicitly disparaging plain original-recipe people. People have value and dignity just because they are people, and the word ‘people’ should have value and dignity just because it is the word for people.
[Posts earlier in the chain omitted for brevity. You can follow the links above to check the context.]
Hello Whenwewereheroes. It looks like you’re having some trouble identifying the difference between consensual sex and assault. Let me help you with that.
Consensual sex is what happens when people who want to have sex with each other have sex with each other. Assault is what happens when one person touches another person against that other person’s will. If the touching is sexual or has a sexual motive, like the incident in the original post probably did, it’s sexual assault.
Here’s a list of all the times when sexual assault is okay:
- When the person who gets assaulted has had consensual sex with someone who is in a relationship.
- Oh no, wait, go back and cross out number 4 because you know when sexual assault is okay? For a hint, see number 6.
The fact that you don’t know this doesn’t make you funny. It makes you deeply unpleasant. It makes you massively less admirable and morally praiseworthy than a woman who has consensual sex with a man who’s in a relationship. It even makes you less admirable and praiseworthy than the man in that scenario (because if you think about it for a moment you’ll notice that he’s actually the one who’s being unfaithful to his girlfriend, and the only reason to criticize the woman he sleeps with and not him is if you are a misogynist, which you probably are). In fact it puts you more than half-way down the ramp to being a rapist.
Thank you for listening.
People really stop taking the term “sexual assault” seriously when it’s used to describe someone grabbing someone’s hand. It also really devalues instances of actual sexual assault like ripping someone’s clothes off or ramming a hand in someone’s pants.
Also, really, what is more upsetting… finding out your boyfriend cheated on you with someone who then gloated about it online? Or having your hand grabbed momentarily by a weird stranger.
You had better take up your first point with your MP, because that’s what Parliament decided ‘sexual assault’ means when it passed the Sexual Offences Act 2003.
Your second point appears to be that sexual assault is okay if the person it happens to has done something you disapprove of. This is not an argument I recommend trying out in court.
So today a pair of people who wanted to get married got married.
That was nice. I think it should always be like that.
Picture is a fake advertisement based on a still from the most recent episode of Doctor Who. The presidential desk in the Oval Office in 1969. Behind it sits the Doctor (played by Matt Smith), hands folded, looking straight at us like ‘let’s get down to business’. On the left, sitting on the desk and holding the receiver of a red telephone to her ear, is Amy (played by Karen Gillan); on the right, walking behind the desk and making notes on a paper file, is Rory (played by Arthur Darvill). I’ve just noticed each of these actors has a double-letter in their name. Anyway, sorry, yes. The image has blocky business-like sans-serif capitals at the top saying: ATTACKED BY MONSTERS? ERASED FROM HISTORY? TURNED INTO A ROMAN? WE CAN HELP. And then at the bottom it says: SPACE-TIME LAWYERS and in big blue letters TEAM TARDIS and then smaller again CALL 1-800-DOCTOR NOW. OUR OPERATORS ARE STANDING BY TO TAKE YOUR CALLS. NO WIN, NO FEZ.
Image is the Bad machinery comic strip from 8 April 2011 (click it to go to the web-page). In the first panel we see the exterior of a modern-looking building. A speech-bubble emerges from a window saying, ‘Look chief, look! If Colm was in Mingis, he couldn’t have started the barn fire.’ In the next panel we’re looking between two arms — a pink-skinned arm with a short blue sleeve and a brown-skinned arm with a short red sleeve — at a person seated behind a desk who has short grey hair, a bushy moustache, and a police uniform. On the wall behind the desk is a certificate that may say something like ‘Police chief of the year award’. This is, of course, the surprisingly patient police chief that regular readers remember from 9 February. The chief is saying, ‘Boys, there’s a whole chain of evidence to go through, and…’ Next we see two schoolboys, Linton (who is taller and black with short woolly hair and wearing a red t-shirt with some kind of cross-shaped design) and Sonny (who is shorter and white with slightly mop-like blond hair and wearing a light blue polo shirt with a white collar). Sonny is looking uncertainly at Linton while Linton frowns and says, ‘You haven’t… even… clicked on it.’ In the next panel we’re looking over the chief’s shoulder as Sonny leans on the desk and Linton drapes his arm over the back of the chief’s chair. The chief is handling a computer-mouse, and we see the computer-screen. The chief says, ‘It… it says that Windows Media Player is unable to open this file.’ The following panel shows the chief leaning back in the chair, hand off the mouse, while both Linton and Sonny lean on the desk. Linton says, ‘Agggh you have to use Quicktime to open it. Don’t you have Quicktime?’ Sonny says, ‘He might be missing a codec.’ The next panel shows the chief looking rather nervous as Linton scowls and says, ‘OPEN QUICKTIME.’ In the final panel the chief is slumped despondently, arms dangling between their knees, while Linton and Sonny have moved around between the chief and the desk and are operating the computer. Sonny is saying, ‘Look at all these pop-ups! I think you have a virus!’ Linton is saying, ‘Wow. Do you save every single file you make on the desktop?’
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People, you would not believe the amount of time wasted in the British criminal courts because the CCTV is in the wrong format for the court equipment.
Video is a trailer for the BBC drama Silk. It appears to be about English barristers in their odd wigs and gowns shouting at each other in various courtrooms and bedrooms.
First six seconds: Kingston Crown court. I used to work there. In fact I was working there when this was filmed, though I didn’t see any of the actors because I was, you know, working.
Also, these two are very young to be QCs and, more importantly, their wigs are implausibly clean.