Bar Council Of India To Look Into Dress Code Revamp For Lawyers

The Bar Council of India sets up a committee to discuss the dress code for lawyers.
<div class="paragraphs"><p>Lawyers  outside the Supreme Court in New Delhi. (Photographer: T. Narayan/Bloomberg)</p></div>
Lawyers outside the Supreme Court in New Delhi. (Photographer: T. Narayan/Bloomberg)

Dressing up for your day in court is serious business. More so for lawyers. Justice Khehar's court declined to hear a matter in 2016 because the lawyer was ‘’not properly dressed’’. Litigants, too, have been pulled up for their uncourtly appearances.

While no one's arguing against appropriate dressing, the practicality of existing requirements has become a topic of debate. Prompting the Bar Council of India to set up a five-member committee to deliberate on the issue of dress code for lawyers.

The council informed the the Allahabad High Court of this decision after a public interest litigation was filed urging the court to prescribe a dress code as per India's climatic conditions, reported LiveLaw.

The committee will hold discussions and conduct deliberations with the bar and the judiciary on the issue.

The Current Dress Code

A regular pre-pandemic Monday morning in the Supreme Court of India would have a corridor filled with lawyers walking, and at times even running, from one courtroom to another to argue their cases. This sea of black gowns would include lawyers from all parts of the country, the attorney general, the solicitor general, senior advocates including some well-known public faces and the younger generation of lawyers.

The purpose of having a uniform is to signal equality before the law, said Senior Advocate Sanjoy Ghose.

Justice should not only be done but also appear to have been done. Having a uniform is aimed towards the latter by making a lawyer who can afford Armani suits and another who purchases his clothes from a regular Delhi market look the same in the eyes of the law.
Senior Advocate Sanjoy Ghose

Lawyers in India have a common dress code with some variations depending upon the court in which they argue.

Male advocates are required to wear:

  • A black buttoned up coat, chapkan, achkan, black sherwani and white bands with gown; or

  • A black open breast coat, white collar stiff or, soft, and white bands with gowns.

These have to be accompanied with long trousers (white, black striped or grey) or Dhoti, but no jeans.

Lady advocates wear:

  • Black and full or half-sleeved jacket or blouse, white collar, stiff or soft, with white bands with gown.

  • Sarees or long skirts (white, or black or any mellow or subdued colour without any print or design) or flare (white, black or black striped or grey).

Gowns are optional except when appearing before the high courts and the Supreme Court. And even the requirement of coats is dispensed with for summers in courts apart from the Supreme Court and high courts.

Outside courts, judges and lawyers wear suits/jackets at official events apart from the swearing-in ceremony of the chief justice.

An Alternate Wardrobe?

There have been instances where some courts have relaxed the dress code for lawyers.

Prior to the pandemic, the Delhi High Court would suspend the requirement of a gown during summers. Similar relaxation has been allowed by the Kerala and the Karnataka High Courts. The relaxation from the apex court came for online hearings. Now that physical hearings have resumed, so have the gowns.

It’s not as if there haven’t been changes in the dress code, as when horsehair wigs were done away with, or dispensing with gowns in summer months in some high courts, said Senior Advocate Chander Uday Singh.

A dark, sober business suit is allowed in the vast majority of nations, and only the British Commonwealth seems to believe that ‘the awesome majesty of the law ’ can only be demonstrated through braided black jackets and flowing gowns. Personally, I don’t find any compelling necessity to continue the current dress.
Senior Advocate Chander Uday Singh

As in the past, this summer too, the Delhi High Court has relaxed the requirement of a gown, Ghose pointed out. "I do not find any problem in making that a permanent feature in courts."

"The current dress code is a colonial relic which has continued in our courts," said Singh, adding that while he doesn’t mind continuing with layers of flapping gowns that snag on doorknobs and nails.

“Perhaps ,the time has come to move to more streamlined court clothing.”

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