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What to wear in Court?

FEBRUARY 22, 2023

By Vijay Kumar

THERE was a time when the Members in the CESTAT used to wear two types of dresses in the Court. The Judicial Members, who were all former lawyers or judges wore the dress worn by High Court judges like a coat and collar band, while the technical members wore a black coat on a white shirt with a tie. If the Member was wearing a tie, you knew that he was not a judicial member.

For appearance before the Tribunal, there was no dress code at all for the Departmental Representatives (DRs). Somewhere around 2006, Justice Abichandani as President prescribed a dress code for the Members and Departmental Representatives. The Members (both judicial and technical) were to wear the dress of High Court judges - coat, collar band, gown et all. Now the technical members also started looking like judicial members enhancing the majesty of the court.

I asked Justice Abichandani whether he had the right to prescribe the judicial dress worn by lawyers and judges for the technical members who were not lawyers. He told me "lawyers have to wear a certain dress did not mean that others are barred from wearing it. I told my members who sceptical, I am allowing you to wear the lawyer dress even though you are not a lawyer; enjoy it".

It was nice to see the Members of the Tribunal dressed like High Court judges and the DRs with black coats. A DR asked me, "what will I do with this coat after I am transferred out?' A former DR told me, "It would have been difficult for me to organise for a coat if I were to wear one when I was the DR". Until then, DRs used to wear whatever fancied them. After all, who would pay for the coat? Salaries were low and coats were expensive in those days.

In 2016, one Rameswor Chowdhury moved a petition before the Calcutta High Court that expert/technical members of the Tribunal (NGT) should not be allowed to wear the dress of the judges. Lawyers representing the state opined that an expert member can't wear a collar or gown. The court then sought affidavits from all parties, including the ministry. In its affidavit, the ministry stated that the Centre has no role to play in the matter as it is for the NGT chairman to decide. At the same time, an under-secretary in the ministry, mentioned in the affidavit that lawyers and judges are not the only ones to wear collar bands and gowns. They were also worn by doctors, clergymen and others. The bench experts are distinguished persons in their respective fields and competent to deal with matters of environmental protection, conservation of forests and other natural resources. Therefore, there shouldn't be any objection letting them wear collar bands and gowns on the bench. The petitioner submitted that they should not be allowed to wear collars and gowns as they do not belong to the legal profession. The case is still pending in the High Court.

In 2014, the president of Tamil Nadu Federation of Women's Lawyers, wrote to the Bar Council of India seeking exemption for advocates from wearing gowns during summer, keeping in mind the heat. Replying, the Council stated that as per Rule III of the Rules of the Bar Council of India "wearing of advocate's gown shall be optional except when appearing in the Supreme Court or in High courts. "Further, as per Rule IV, "except in Supreme Court and high courts during summer, wearing of black coat is not mandatory." It then directed the secretary of Bar Council of Tamil Nadu to circulate the rules among various Bar associations in the state to "remove the confusion or doubts."

Though it may be difficult to wear those black coats during summer, it is not all that good to see lawyers agitating outside the courts and on the roads in their black coats and robes.

Wonder what these lawyers are doing? They are throwing stones at policemen!

Can a Tribunal prescribe a dress code for lawyers?

By an order dated 14.11.2017, the National Company Law Tribunal directed:

"Wearing of gown would be necessary w.e.f. 20th November 2017 in all the benches of NCLT for Hon'ble President, Members and Advocates".

This was challenged in the Madras High Court,which in an order dated 08.02.2023, held:

it is clear that only the High Courts can frame rules for dress code for the appearance of the Advocates before it, the courts and Tribunals, subordinate to it. Tribunals have no authority to issue any instructions determining the dress code for the appearance of the advocates before it.

It could be inferred that the wearing of "gown" is only optional and not mandatory before any courts other than the Supreme Court or the High Courts.

The High Court quashed this order. However, NCLT had rectified the mistake on 27.01.2023 a few days before the High Court gave its verdict.

A dress code for CAs

If lawyers can have a professional dress, though very complicated and most unsuited for a tropical country like India, why not chartered accountants? There was a time when CAs used to appear before Income Tax Officers in buttoned up coats. But with the proliferation of CAs and ITOs, this unofficial dress code gave way to very casual and flashy dresses. What's in a dress when other things matter more?

The Institute of Chartered Accountants has issued a RECOMMENDATORY DRESS CODE FOR MEMBERS OF ICAI:

With a view to ensure dignity in appearance and as a part of brand building of the profession, the Council of ICAI has prescribed the following dress code:

1. Male members may wear Indian National dress (i.e. a long buttoned up coat on dhoti or churidar pyjama) or full sleeves shirts with trousers and shoes.

2. Female members may wear saree or salwar kamiz or trousers and shirt.

3. Members are encouraged to wear a suit or a blazer with tie (preferably of ICAI) as may be appropriate to the occasion.

'Is this a cinema hall?' Judge asks IAS officer for not wearing coat

"You think this is a cinema hall?" a judge of the Patna High Court asked a Bihar IAS officer in a video that went viral on social media in June 2022.

"Don't you know what dress code you have to wear in the court? Did you not go for IAS training in Mussoorie? What is wrong with the IAS officers in the state of Bihar? They don't know how to appear in court" the judge said.

"This is the normal dress code in which IAS officers appear in court, your lordship," the IAS officer responded, adding that there is no official instruction directing officers to be dressed in a blazer or coat while appearing in court.

What is appropriate attire?

As early as in 1933, the Bombay High Court in Emperor v. ChhaganlalIshwardas Shah heard the case of an assessor who was fined three rupees by a sessions judge for being improperly dressed in the court. On appeal, the Bombay High Court opined that it is "rather a matter of taste" and observed, "But what we have to consider is not a question of taste, but whether the learned Sessions Judge had any jurisdiction to fine the assessor. There are no rules as to the dress to be worn by assessors".

In August 2017, the Himachal Pradesh High Court took exception to a lady government officer appearing before it in a multi-hued checked shirt and jeans.

The High Court observed that slackness in attire was affecting judicial decorum and undermining the majesty of the law. It wanted government officials appearing before the Court to be dressed in formal clothing or in appropriate attire and warned them against dressing in an indiscreet manner.

The Supreme Court is no exception in coming down on bureaucrats appearing in "improper" clothes.

The Court had, in 2018, taken objection to the clothing worn by a senior bureaucrat of the Rajasthan government and refused to hear the case, while asking him to adhere to a "proper dress code" and observed:

Irrespective of whether there are rules or no rules, bureaucrats are always expected to wear sober and decent dress, while appearing in courts. It does not matter whether there are administrative instructions or not but there should be a certain level of decency.

In a similar case, Bihar's Chief Secretary was refused a hearing by the apex court for "not being properly dressed" while he was in black trousers and a bandhgala coat.

In 2017, the Jharkhand government asked its officers to refrain from wearing casual clothes while appearing before a court of law after the Jharkhand High Court took exception to then Chief Secretary appearing in person while draped in a colourful printed saree.

Not in our jeans

Just last month the Guwahati High Court ordered,

"Matter stands adjourned today as Mr. B.K. Mahajan, learned counsel for the petitioner is attired in jeans pants. Therefore, the Court had to call for the police personnel to decourt him outside the High Court campus"

Once the Bombay High Court asked a journalist, who was covering court proceedings wearing jeans and t-shirt, whether her attire was part of "Bombay culture".

Way back in 1986, the then Chief Justice of India Y.V. Chandrachud, turned out of the court an advocate's woman assistant who was wearing tight jeans. The Justice said in a later interview:

I had no difference with her jeans. What I objected to was the way she was strutting up and down the court with a comb peeping out of her hip-pocket. It was as if she wanted her jeans to be felt in the court. So, I objected.

Three years ago, during Covid, in the Supreme Court, the judges had assembled to hear important matters through video-conferencing. Senior advocate Kapil Sibalobserved that the Judges were neither wearing black coat nor robes. While Justice Malhotra was in a saree, the other two judges were wearing white shirt and black tie. The CJI said, "We have been told that black coat and robes provide additional surfaces to the virus to attach itself to. That is why, as you see, we have disbanded coats and robes." Reacting quickly, Sibal said, "We wish the same is also extended to the lawyers."

A junior lawyer was a little confused as to what he should wear while attending a court during Covid. His senior colleague told him, "Don't worry; just wear a mask". He followed the advice and found later in court that the other lawyers were wearing pants and shirts in addition to masks!

Until Next week

Sub: Appearance wearing a baniyan

Pandemic times threw up more anomalous conduct on the part of counsels. One counsel appeared before the court sitting in his bed room, wearing a sleevless baniyan. Another hgh profile senior counsel appeared sitting in his car, smoking hookah!

Posted by Gururaj B N