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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 October, 2003, 13:56 GMT 14:56 UK
Lord Chancellor breaks tradition
Lord Falconer of Thornton leads the judges' procession
Lord Falconer donned ordinary morning dress
The new Lord Chancellor has broken with centuries of tradition by ditching the elaborate costume worn by his predecessors at historic ceremonies.

Lord Falconer donned ordinary morning dress for the judges' service marking the start of the legal year.

Lord Chancellors since the Middle Ages have worn black and embroidered gold judicial gowns, legal wigs, breeches, tights and buckled shoes.

But Lord Falconer plans to abolish the 1,400-year-old position by 2005.

The Lord Chancellor, who took over the role in June, has promised never to sit as a judge.

But it is now his duty to lead one of the most impressive sights in British pageantry - the judges' procession from Westminster Abbey's Poet's Corner entrance to Westminster Hall in the Palace of Westminster for a traditional breakfast.

Lord Irvine of Lairg leads the judges' procession
Lord Chancellors since the Middle Ages have worn judicial gowns

John Cooper, of the Bar Council, told BBC News: "By the Lord Chancellor dressing down what he is really saying is that tradition for tradition's sake is not necessarily important.

"It is accessibility that is important and people understanding the law is for them."

A procession of judges wearing wigs arrived at the Abbey by car from the Royal Courts of Justice in The Strand.

Appeal Court judges, including Family Division chairman Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, wore black and gold robes.

Others, including Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf, donned 18th Century-style scarlet gowns trimmed with purple or red ermine.

Lord Falconer of Thornton read a lesson during the 45-minute service.

It also included prayers, hymns, psalms and anthems, conducted by Dean of Westminster the Very Reverend Dr Wesley Carr.

Judges prayed

About 1,000 people, including QCs in ceremonial dress, government ministers, senior judicial officers, the Law Officers, European Court members and other overseas judges and lawyers, were invited to attend the events.

Before the Reformation it was customary to fast for several hours before taking communion during the service, when judges prayed for divine guidance in their courtroom deliberations.

It commemorates the tradition of the Lord Chancellor offering the judges food to break their fast before taking their seats in court.

The breakfast was cancelled during World War I and held just four times between 1931 and 1953.

The service was cancelled between 1940 and 1946 following bomb damage to the Abbey.

And in 1953 it was in St Margaret's Church because structures and decorations for the Coronation remained in the Abbey.

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