Whenever we hear about a legal professional, more than their abilities their dress code strikes our mind. The grace of the black coat and the simplicity of the white attire makes us have an image of a powered individual. Clothes have always been an expression of your being. The dress code depicts the confidence one possesses, it’s the symbolic representation of the responsibility they hold towards their clients, their profession and the prestigious court. In a lawyer’s dress code, the balance between maintaining court etiquette and enabling independence in a person’s lifestyle is carefully defined. Certainly, attire becomes respectable only when the meaning behind wearing it is understood and known. What are the meaning and the importance of wearing the lawyer’s outfit? What makes it stand out for the royalty and the responsibility it holds?
KNOWING THE DRES’S CODE OF A LAWYER
“Style is a deeply personal expression of who you are, and every time you dress, you are asserting a part of yourself”. What do the lawyers wear and why?
- THE BLACK ROBE: Apart from the many narratives the reason behind legal professionals honing their presence with the black robe lies in the meaning of the color black. Black for long has been accepted and duly talked about as the color of sheer elegance and dominance. It is considered the color of potentiality and might. The color represents the adherence to certain things and hence wearing it implies submission towards the judicial system in all due authentic sense.
- THE COLOR WHITE: White is associated with light, clarity, purity, and genuineness. The color white represents a typical citizen and his position because the legal system is the habitation of justice for him.
- THE NECKBANDS: The white neckbands, like the rest of the basics, are English-made. White bands were once part of the attire of barristers-at-law. Barristers were the first lawyers in Indian courts, hence their attire became a symbol of advocates in our country. The Tablets of the Laws or Tablets of Stone are represented by the two pieces of white cloth that compose the advocate’s bands. According to Christian belief, Moses used these tablets to etch the 10 commandments he received from a burning bush on Mt. Sinai. The 10 commandments are thought to be the first example of a codified set of laws. The band has a similar shape to the rounded-off rectangular tablets. As a result, the white advocate’s bands symbolize the keeping of God’s and men’s rules.
- DRESS ETHICS TO BE FOLLOWED BY THE ADVOCATES
[RULE UNDER SECTION 49(1)(GG) OF THE ADVOCATES ACT, 1961]
Advocates appearing in the Supreme Court, High Court, subordinate courts, tribunals, or authorities shall dress soberly and dignifiedly and wear the following as part of their attire:
Activists that aren’t lady advocates include:
- A black buttoned-up coat, chapkan, achkan, black sherwani, and white bands with an advocate’s gown, or (b) a black open-breast coat, stiff or soft white collar, and white bands with an advocate’s gown. Long trousers (white, black, striped, or grey) or a dhoti can be worn in any instance.
- (a) black and full or half-sleeved jacket or shirt, white-collar, stiff or soft, and white bands with advocate’s dresses;
- b) sarees or long skirts (white, black, or any mellow or subdued hue without any print or design) or flares (white, black, black-striped, or grey):
Except while appearing in the Supreme Court or the High Court, the wearing of an advocate’s robe is optional. A black-tie may be worn instead of bands in courts other than the Supreme Court, High Court, District Court, or City Court.
Apart from the excessive heat, a lawyer has to bear whilst dealing with the daily proceedings in his day-to-day life, many concerns are being raised regarding the alteration of the lawyer’s dress code. In July 2021, Advocate Ashok Pandey of the Allahabad High Court’s Lucknow bench filed public interest litigation (PIL) in the high court, questioning the existing dress code for lawyers which resulted in The Bar Council of India constituting a five-member committee to decide on the issue of dress code for lawyers. “The petitioner has stated that the band is a symbol of Christianity and should be discontinued. As per his statement, non-Christians cannot be compelled to wear it. He has questioned the wearing of the coat and gown too”.
Apart from the religious sentiments that the attire holds, the question of following the rules of the British has come to attention. The Britishers have left India but have Indians left the way British rules are being followed? The answer is NO. From the education and the administrative system to the dress code to be followed, Britishers have encompassed themselves in their former colony and the colony has been successful and has been following their orders as rules.
On 28th August 2021, Advocate Tripathi also filed a PIL (for bringing alteration in the dress code. The plea was to bring necessary amendments to State BCI rules so that Advocates get some respite from wearing black coats and gowns in the summer months while appearing for their matters. In his petition filed before the Top Court, Tripathi emphasized the importance of having comfortable dress codes to facilitate a comfortable working environment. The lawyer draws a direct correlation between a relaxed dress code and work efficiency. The petition stresses that dress codes for Advocates must be modified according to the climatic condition of a place.
The major problem amidst all the chaos of following a certain dress code lies in the maintenance of its decorum. Legal professionals need to be disciplined with what they are wearing and how they are appearing in front of the court. It is not a casual hang-out place but a court where the proceedings are progressed and justice is delivered. Cases of lawyers being undisciplined towards their dress code are many and keep increasing daily.
At the time of virtual court hearings, lawyers became lassitude and avoided following the court norms which Allahabad High Court took a toll on the lawyer’s preference and reprimanded him. Advocates should give value to the understanding that how they appear for the hearing of cases through online mode from their house or chamber is like an extended courtroom and it is similar to attending a proceeding inside a court.
Around the same time, the Bombay High Court took adherence to the problems faced by lawyers and allowed some relief. A lawyer was made to pay fines for not wearing the neckband. Little details but the ones with the most impact. Certainly, many times it is not about a particular dress code but the manners an individual possesses while having the responsibility of wearing them. The BCI and the Judiciary have the responsibility of designing a method that fits deem for the legal professionals but until it gets the required rectification, the outfit is a lawyer’s prestige and identity which should be maintained at all costs.
The ‘Dress Code’ reflects legal professionals’ sincerity and commitment to judicial institutions, and allows them to accept responsibility for their profession. Because the judicial system is regarded as one of the most respected, it is critical to show respect for it and the people who work in it. The attire of a lawyer holds a lot of grace from the time a client approaches the lawyer to the time when the lawyer presents himself in court. It is the responsibility of the budding lawyers to respect the value the attire holds and the duty of the lawyers to follow the norm. The lawyer’s dress speaks about the attributes a lawyer must hold and miss out on any of them or the laziness in wearing any of them implies the lawyer’s insincerity towards his profession.
Author(s) Name: Soumya Sharma (UPES, Dehradun)