WHAT TO WEAR TO COURTS?

Introduction

Judges often reprimand and fine lawyers and litigants for wearing improper clothing in court. Recently, an IAS officer was reprimanded by the Patna HC for wearing an open-collared shirt. The judge insisted upon wearing a blazer and a closed collar and condemned it by saying it was a dress that someone would wear to a cinema hall[1]. Justice Indu Malhotra objected to a female officer wearing jeans in court[2]. A junior engineer was condemned by the court for wearing a checked shirt and jeans to court, and said that this kind of outfit‘undermines the majesty of the law’[3]. Jharkhand HC reprimanded chief secretary Rajbala Verma for wearing a colourful printed saree and observed that flashy colours, goggles, t-shirts, and jeans are highly objectionable and disturb the decorum of the court[4]. Advocate General Binod Poddar went a step ahead by suggesting the officers not sit with crossed legs in courtrooms[5].

The first way we evaluate someone is by their appearance. By looking at the dresses, a general conception is made, and the behaviour towards that person is often based on that perception. Often, for certain professions, a dress code is prescribed that distinguishes them from the general crowd, makes them recognisable, and helps them in the better discharge of their duties. Justice is one of the pillars of democracy and is considered one of the most respectable professions. Judges, lawyers, and other people in the court need to dress in a manner respectful to the court. Every country prescribes a certain dress code for lawyers.For instance, Canadian lawyers have to wear red and white, and in England, black and white is standard practice. The Indian justice system is highly influenced by that of the British. Black and white are seen as submission and respect towards the system. Judges and advocates have a very strict dress code. Every court manual prescribes uniforms for judges. For instance, in Delhi, it is prescribed to wear a white shirt, a black coat, a white band, and an advocate’s gown for male officers,and female officers should wear a black/white blouse/shirt, ablack/white saree, a white band, afull-sleeved coat, and an advocate’s gown. The uniform guidelines for advocates are prescribed by the AdvocatesAct, 1961 and the Bar Council of India Rules, 1975. It is a white shirt, black trousers, black coat, and white band with an advocate’s gown except for appearing in High Courts and the Supreme Court. The uniform worn by judges and lawyersis a sign of respect and loyalty to the system, yet itis criticised for several reasons.

British Influence

The dress code for lawyers, judges and other judicial officers in India is highly influenced by the English system. The trend of white and black clothing started as people began offering mourning to King Charles II in 1685. The black colour is inspired by the priests in Christianity. Priests wear black as a symbol of submission toward God.Similarly, judges and lawyers began wearing black as a symbol of submission to thejustice system. Black was also the colour of dominance and high caste in the Victorian era. The white neckband is two rectangular cloth bands joined together. It is inspired by the ten commandments of the Moses of Christian culture. It demonstrates the table of law and the table of stone.

Climatic Conditions

The dress code of Indian lawyers and judges is highly influenced by the British.Therefore,they must wear coats and robes in Indian climatic conditions as well. The present dress code is not suited for the Indian weather. Wearing coats in scorching Indian summers, especially when most of the lower courts do not have ACs and proper ventilation systems, is a difficult experience for legal practitioners. Section 49(1)(gg)[6]states, ‘the form of dresses or robes to be worn by advocates, having regard to the climatic conditions, appearing before any court or tribunal’ but so far, no adjustment or changes have been made according to that. Recently, lawyers from Kerala moved to court demanding a change in the dress code suitable to the climatic conditions of the state. Not only the lawyers, but judges describe wearing the full attire as a “horrid stuffy experience”.[7]

‘Improper dressing’

Not only lawyers, judges, and judicial officers, but also litigants, are expected to dress appropriately.Litigants mustn’t dress in a manner disrespectful to the court, but prescribing a strict dress code makes courts, and hence, justice, difficult to access. It cannot be expected of a person who has always lived in rural areas to dress up in a blazer and business formals. Courts are often very critical of what litigants wear to the court. A foreign couple was charged by Bombay HC with a fine of Rs. 2500 for wearing improper clothes to the court for a tourist visit. The courts prescribe litigants to wear ‘modest’ and ‘sober-coloured clothes’ to the court. The idea of modesty is different for every person, and as the decision depends upon the court to decide if the attire was improper, it may create bias. What may appear “tasteful” to one judge may prompt another to ask the litigant if he is going to a cinema hall.[8]A division bench of the court comprising justices Tarlok Singh Chauhan and Ajay Mohan Goel said, “Every litigant appearing before the court is expected to be dressed modestlyto maintain decorum. After all, being appropriately dressed only induces a seriousness of purpose and a sense of decorum, which is highly conducive for the dispensation of justice.”[9]

Conclusion

No specific attire should be demanded of litigants. While it’s vital to dress courteously for the court, the judge should also take the person’s circumstances and background into account. India is a varied country in terms of culture and geography; therefore, putting all of its citizens in the same category is unjust. The attire of judges and attorneys must also be changed to reflect the Indian context; a uniform that represents India today rather than “once India was colonised” is essential.

Author(s) Name: Simran Kaur (Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, Delhi)

References:

[1] Aishwarya Dharni, ‘Video: Patna High Court Judge Reprimands IAS Officer Over Dress Code, Asks If He Has Come To A ‘Cinema Hall’, (India Times, 12 June 2022) <https://www.indiatimes.com/trending/social-relevance/patna-high-court-judge-reprimands-ias-officer-over-dress-code-571990.html> accessed 24 June 2022

[2]Ritika Jain, ‘Supreme Court judge Indu Malhotra to women lawyers: No palazzo pants, dress professionally’, (The Print, 10 May 2018)<https://theprint.in/india/governance/supreme-court-judge-indu-malhotra-to-women-lawyers-no-palazzo-pants-dress-professionally/57280/> accessed 24 June 2022

[3]Ashok Bagriya, ‘Dress code in Himachal high court? No jeans, checked shirts for litigants’ (Hindustan Times, 6 August 2017)<https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/dress-code-in-himachal-high-court-no-jeans-checked-shirts-for-litigants/story-G4OEq7aL9nTO1sz8ipIoOP.html> accessed 23 June 2022

[4]Bedanti Saran, ‘Jharkhand: Mind what you wear to court, state warns officers’, (Hindustan Times, 7 June 2017)<https://www.hindustantimes.com/ranchi/jharkhand-mind-what-you-wear-to-court-state-warns-officers/story-674TCDCp5pDkqrfSaAEBrO.html> accessed 24 June 2022

[5]ibid

[6]Advocates Act, 1961, s 49(1)(gg)

[7] K S Sudhi, ‘Judicial officers for summer-friendly dress code in courts’ (The Hindu, 5 April 2019) <https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/judicial-officers-for-summer-friendly-dress-code-in-courts/article26739160.ece> accessed 23 June 2022

[8]ShagunSuryam, ‘What should litigants wear to court? Judges continue to dish out a dressing down’ (Bar and Bench, 18 June 2022)<https://www.barandbench.com/columns/dress-code-litigants-appearing-court-of-law> accessed 23 June 2022

[9]Ashok Bagriya, ‘Dress code in Himachal high court? No jeans, checked shirts for litigants’ (Hindustan Times, 6 August 2017)<https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/dress-code-in-himachal-high-court-no-jeans-checked-shirts-for-litigants/story-G4OEq7aL9nTO1sz8ipIoOP.html> accessed 23 June 2022