Lawyer’s Attire: Rationale Behind the Black Court

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This article has been written by Mansi Singh 1st year student of  Amity Law School Raipur, Chhattisgarh

Etiquette, attire are elusive indicator of intellect and professionalism. Research show that once appearance strongly influences other’s perception about your financial success, authority and many more. There’s a phrase “Dress how you want to be addressed” The legal profession is magnificent in nature and its profundity is accolade by its dress code. Hence, it is imperative for a lawyer to refrain from adorning flamboyant outfits that may look deterrent to the client. Other than professionals they are also the officers of the courts and play a dispensable role in administration of justice.

Thus, the lawyer’s attire, the rules that govern their professional deeds arise out of the duty they owe to their client, opponents and other advocates. The balance between courts decorum and freedom in once life is most well defined in a lawyer’s dress code. The professional environment is generally marked by the way of dressing in terms of colour, style. The American standards of criminal laws and justice as attorney is an officer of court, he should brace court’s dignity.

Traditionally, the English court follow Barrister’s dress code in such a manner that the officer should be in proper attire even the growth of attorney’s beard or cut of this cloth would be subject to scrutiny. However, India in this regard inherited the system of British rule with minor changes.

HISTORY:

When king Charles II of England died in 1685, people wore gown as a symbol of mourning their king’s death. It was then the uniform for lawyers were designated. Earlier it was believed that wearing a wig and gown awarded a degree of incognito to lawyers and judges. Wig first appeared in 17 centuries during the reign of king Charles II. They were voguish among English upper class after the court of Louis XIV of France inspired king Charles II.

The color: BLACK AND WHITE

Black and white colour are recognised as the symbol of legal profession throughout the world. Black colour has several overtones. Like every colour it has both positive and negative significance. On one hand it manifest death, evil and mystery while on the other hand, it signifies strength and authority.

 Black colour was chosen for two reasons:

  • Colours and dyes were not readily available at that time. Purple signified royalty and thus, the only abundant colour so the only option was “BLACK”.
  • The main reason behind wearing black coat is because black colour is for power and authority. Black represent submission on oneself. Just like priests wear black to show their submission to god similarly lawyers wear black to show their submission to justice.

 The colour white signifies light, goodness, innocence and purity. For a common man the only hope for justice is the legal system the white was chosen to represent him.

As the Indian legal system is influenced by the British rulers. The Advocate Act 1961, makes it mandatory for a lawyer to wear black robe or coat with a wore neckband on top of it. lawyers of both the side be it the petitioner and respondent wear similar dress code.  The significance of the colour also highlight the feature that “LAW IS BLIND”. Which means it is based on weight of evidence and not any other factor.[1]

THE REGULATION OF BAR COUNCIL OF INDIA

Section 49 of the above rules govern the dress code of the advocates appearing in supreme court, high courts, subordinate courts, tribunals or Authorities. The lawyers should fear the following as part of their dress, which shall be sober and dignified.

  1. DRESS CODE FOR ADVOCATES IN INDIA

Part VI: Chapter IV of Bar Council of India Rules: Rules under Section 49(1) (gg) of the Advocate Act,1961.        

Advocates other than lady advocates,

1(a) A black buttoned-up coat, chapkan, achkan, black sherwani and white bands with advocate’s gown or

(b) A black open breast coat, white collar, stiff or soft, and white band with advocate’s gowns.

In either case long trousers (white, black, striped or grey) or dhoti.

FOR LADY ADVOCATES: –

 2 (a) A black and full or half- sleeve jacket or blouse, white collar, stiff or soft and white bands advocate’s gowns.

(b) Sarees or long skirts (white or black or any mellow or subdued color without a print or design) or flares (white, black or black-stripped or grey).

Provided that the wearing of advocate’s gown shall be optional except when appearing in the Supreme Court or in a High Court. Also, other than Supreme Court, High Court, Session Court or City Civil Court, a black tie may be worn instead of bands.

It is also prescribed that no special attire is prescribed for designated Senior Advocates. However, the Senior Advocates illegally wear different gown which is distinct from the normal one. They put on queen council gown although they are not one. And show other advocates, courts and clients that they have the seal of superiority. This action of senior advocate contravenes the rules which prescribe one and same dress for all the advocates and it also violates the Article 14 of the constitution. The queen council gown worn by senior advocate is a kind of old custom of British legal profession which is no longer prevalent in India.

Therefore, Senior Advocates have no right to wear queen council gown in India.

 So, till know it is quite clear that dress code plays an important part in a lawyer’s life, but there are cases in India and also around the world where lawyers don’t think that the dress code given to them is to be followed when they are in courts, meeting with Senior judges etc.

FOLLOWING ARE SOME CASES: –

As  everyone around the world is experiencing lockdown due to COVID19 pandemic, everything is closed, but the house of justice cannot be closed. So, the judges are hearing cases through the online platform, and giving the decisions.

  • First case is of

Florida, where judge Dennis Baily was conducting hearing through Zoom App. The judge was not happy regarding the inappropriateness of the dress, some attorneys were not in their proper dress code. A male lawyer  appeared shirtless and one female lawyer appeared still in bed.

  • Second one is of

India where a learned member of the bar from Rajasthan appeared before the court through video conferencing wearing baniyan or a vest.

  • There is a landmark case, of an advocate practicing in New York Attorney Todd C. Bank. He appeared in Civil Court in Queens wearing jeans and a button-down shirt and a baseball hat. On seeing his irresponsible behaviour Judge Anne Katz admonished him for his inappropriate dress. Later, he challenged judge Anne Katz claiming that it violates his constitutional rights, under article 1st and 14th amendment to the U.S Constitution. But judge dismissed banks claim.

The judge stated “A court room is not a public forum for the expression of ideas but rather a non- public forum where rules need only be reasonable and view- point neutral”.

  • In Indian context also, a case arosed in Allahabad High Court (Prayag Das v. Civil judge Bulandshaher) AIR 1947 A11.133, in this the advocate prayed to judge to allow him to wear Dhoti and Kurta. however, the judge turned down his appeal

CONCLUSION

 A lawyer is an officer of the court and he should strictly follow court’s decorum. And yes, uniform do matters!!! whether in the court room or in video conference. One cannot visualise a police officer without uniform or an army man on the border wearing jeans and t-shirt even if the climate requires them to.

The dress code express sanctity and commitment of the lawyer towards judicial institution and enhance their responsibility for the profession. Wearing appropriate cloths in a courtroom is extremely important. The judge in the courtroom can refuse audience to a lawyer if he dressed up inappropriately. This is the reason why not only lawyers but every individual who participate in the court should follow a certain “Dress Code”.

The basic rule for dressing is to dress up conservatively. Wearing casual and shabby clothes in the courtroom is considered as disrespect to the law.

References:

https://www.ebc-india.com/lawyer/articles/859.htm

Also Read:  Understanding 'Damages' and 'Compensation' under Contract Law

https://www.barandbench.com/columns/lawyers-attire-much-ado-about-nothing

https://indianlawwatch.com/practice/knowing-dress-code-of-lawyers/

https://www.mondaq.com/india/management/593748/a-lawyer39s-style-statement–dressing-rules-more

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