2 Jun 2010

Lawyer's robes and the law in India

A friend who closely follows the blog pointed out to this story in the Hindu which covers a "petition in the High Court in Kerala seeks a change in the dress code of lawyers – because the black coat, a relic of the Raj, is unsuitable for the sweltering Indian climate." We found the stuff more of a popularity-craved move but then for the benefit of our readers decided to run a post on that for such attempts are not new in India. 

While the news item does carry the opinion of various legal lumnaries of the country over the archaicness of the dress code prescribed for the lawyers (Black Coat, Neck band, and gown), there is no shortage of scholarly stuff on the issue. For illustration, we have this opinion of a Senior Counsel from Kerala published in the All India Reporter and also one of a Supreme Court lawyer in an online journal where it has been sought to be argued that the gowns worn by the Senior Counsels in India, on the lines of Queen's Counsels of England do not suit the Indian climatic conditions to be continued. 

Both these articles, however, acknowledge that the decision of a Division Bench of Delhi High Court has already considered and dismissed these claims as non-justiciable. It is also noted that Supreme Court did not interfere against this decision of the High Court. In our view the stand of the judiciary has been correct. It is well accepted that Bar Council of India is the regulatory body for lawyers in India. Thus if any changes of such nature are to be called for, they are better discussed and addressed at the level of the Bar Council. One would recall a similar petition before the Supreme Court where it was argued that lawyers not be compelled to address judges as "My Lordship" etc. as the British tradition has been and the Supreme Court referred the issue to the Bar Council of India which passed appropriate resolution to this effect, allowing the use of the term "Sir/Madam" for addressing the judges. It is a different matter though that the practice has still not changed

It is also correct for the judiciary not to interfere. It is for the regulatory body to decide what the dress-code etc. for its members. Thus the correct forum, if the issues are indeed genuine, is only the Bar Council of India. Better seek redressal there. Nonetheless, we would recommend our readers to have a look at this article published over a decade and half back which rightly brings out the pros and cons of continuing with the tradition of robes and gowns as dress code in legal fraternity, judging the options on the touchstone of dignity and discomfort. 

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