Saturday, November 18, 2006


It is about lawyers’ uniform. Should we, the lawyers, continue with bands, gowns and black coats even during summer and the rainy seasons?

What would you say, if you see a person in a suit and a tie in the scorching heat of May (450 C) or in the humid climate of July? Is there any such person? Think again. There are many. Their reputation is neither envied in the world nor their fate thereafter. Yes, it is we the lawyers. Instead of a suit it is a combination. And in the place of tie it is band and on top of the entire ensemble there is a gown.

When the British came to India, they, along with their legal system, also introduced the lawyer’s attire. And when they left, they, alongwith their finest legacy- the legal system, bequeathed the black coats, bands and gowns. Dress among the legal fraternity was often governed by traditions. The High Courts have also made rules in this regard. Normally in case of the male members, apart from other things, they are require to wear: a black buttoned up coat, or open collar coat, or Achkan, or Sherwani with bands and a gown. Under the rules female members were exempted from wearing coats at least.

Historically speaking, wigs were first used as a personal adornment and not for any other purpose. Barristers started wearing them in the beginning of the eighteenth century. According to Dennin,
'it conceals the personality and the boldHead. .... It is a mark of authority and a source of respect.' (What next in law; Lord Denning)
Good reasons but not all need them. Wigs are absolute in India. No one wears them, except may be Judges on ceremonial occasions. Thank goodness. What a relief! They are still worn in England by Judges and Barristers. Bands, weepers, bibs, neck cuff or collar cuffs came to be worn by barristers around the same time as wigs.
'Counsel ... seem to take great pride in the wearing of collar cuffs whose purpose, I have been told, is to wipe tears after an emotional pleasure. Perhaps due to this, collar cuffs [came to be] ... later known as weepers.' (Wigs and Weepers; George Joseph).


What about head dress? Traditionally English headdress (Hat, Cap etc.) is not worn inside a building. They have never been worn inside the court. But what about the Indian head dress! According to Hindu tradition, covering one’s head is to show respect. The Indian head dress can always be worn inside the courts. The members of legal fraternity have always been wearing Turbans or Safas- a sight quite common during the British Raj, though so common now.

It is not that efforts were not made to legislate on the legal profession earlier. The comprehensive Act, the Advocates Act, was enacted in 1961. Section 34 of the Act gives power to the High Court to lay down conditions subject to which an Advocate shall be permitted to practise. Different High Courts already had rules or have since made rules prescribing a dress code for Advocates. Section 49(1)(b) permits the Bar Council of India to make rules for the conduct and etiquette to be observed by advocates. The Bar Council of India has framed a rule to the effect that an Advocate shall appear in court at all times only in the prescribed dress and his appearance shall always be presentable. It does not, however, prescribe any dress.

The Advocates Act has been amended (Act No.60 of 1974); Section 49(1)(g)(a) has been added. It permits the Bar Council to frame rules about dress to be worn by Advocates having regard to the climatic conditions. Different rules made by the High courts and the traditions followed by them may be irrelevant now. The Bar Council has made a rule, which also permits dhoti to be worn. It provides for black coat. Achkan or Sherwani with bands for all and gown being optional for Advocates appearing before lower courts.

Let's come back to the original question. Why should one continue to wear coat, bands and gowns in a climate totally unsuited for such attire? Is it because it suited the British climate that we have been wearing them? The British themselves are having doubts about it. Some have been giving reasons for their continuance, ‘
the uniform is also a permanent reminder of professional discipline, not a guarantee of good behaviour but a great aid to it. .... The robes of Judges- speak of continuity of development, of responsibility. They remind him that he is not an isolated individual acting for himself alone, here today and gone tomorrow’. (Topelsk’s Legal Land.)

In the Indian context some answers were provided by Justice MN Shukla in Prayag Das Vs Civil Judge (AIR 1974 All 133). Prayag Das, an Advocate, was debarred by Civil Judge for appearing in a Dhoti. He filed writ petition to justify his stand. Allahabad High Court rules, for subordinate courts, by necessary implication, excluded wearing of Dhoti. The court, in para 18 of the report, speaking of the prescribed dress says,
‘In the first place they distinguish an Advocate from a litigant. In the second place it induces a seriousness of purpose and sense of decorum, conducive to the dispensation of justice. If the rule is relaxed Advocates may start to dress more scantily and even indiscreetly’.

This may be sufficient reason to uphold a rule. But, is it sufficient for not relieving us of this burden, on the administrative side? Should we continue to have insults of black coats, bands and gown? At least Advocates appearing in their personal capacities have always disrobed (References of a few such cases are Smt Vidya Varma Vs Dr Shiv Narain Varma AIR 1956 SC 108, T Venkanna Vs The Hon’ble High Court of Mysore AIR 1973 Mysore 127: R Vs Evans 1961 (1) AllER 319).

Justice Megarry in St. Edmundsbury in Diocesan Board Vs Clark (1973 (2) AllER 1155 ) remarked,
‘Robes are convenient in normal circumstances as indication of the functions of those engaged in proceedings as enhancing the formality and dignity of grave occasion; they also level visual differences of age, sex and clothing and so aid concentration on the real issue without distraction: but robes are not essential and the court may dispense with them where there are good reasons. Jurisdiction is neither conferred nor excluded by mere matter of attire’.
He thought robes to be
‘unduly burdensome to all concerned, if they were required to be robed in the usual way merely for the purpose of hearing the evidence of one witness and there could be difficulties as to the provisions of the suitable robing room. Accordingly, I shall not robe; counsels shall similarly not be robed’.

Well if this is sufficient reason to dispense with coat, gown and band, then why should Advocates continue to wear them during summers at places where the temperature is more than 45 degree Celsius. There is no earthly reason to do it except that it was done in England. This dress may be fine in Jammu & Kashmir or Himanchal Pradesh or some parts of Uttar Pradesh but not at all suitable for most of the country during summers.

Well, should we or shouldn’t we robe? There is no doubt that,
‘from a purely practical point of view, they (robes) are great levellers, so far as the Bar is concerned. In robes the most poverty-stricken junior will not be put out of countenance by a Savile Row suit on a fashionable opponent’. (Topelsk’s ‘Legal Land)
But is it necessary to prescribe black coat, bands and gown during summers? Some other dress in accordance with the summer climate may be provided. The rule framed by Bar Council of India may not be held ultra vires of Section 49(1)(g)(a) but it is undoubtedly not in line with it.

What kind of robes should be provided for? Wouldn’t it be lovely to have a fashion show to select one. Alas, we the lawyers are too conservative. Let me make a few suggestions- without fashion parade. A short sleeve, sober colour Safari suit is an excellent idea. May be a short sleeve shirt tucked into trousers, Army style, of course with different colours, is an equally good one. We may also retain the gown to be worn on top. An Advocate may also wear a nametag. The time has come when we must bid good bye to the black coat, bands and gown, the last signs of British legacy. If we have to inherit, something we had rather inherit their independence of the Bar and Judiciary rather than bands, gowns and black coats.

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