Dress Code for Lawyers; Whether Arbitrary or Unreasonable

The Kerala High Court on Monday, 7 December 2015 in the case of Dr. Vincent Panikulangara Vs. Union of India held that providing a dress code for those practising in various Courts can only be termed as a reasonable restriction and cannot be termed as either arbitrary or unreasonable.

Justice A.M. Shaffique observed that to practise as an Advocate, it is a statutory as well as a fundamental right, and therefore reasonable restrictions can be imposed.

Advocates are persons who are supposed to be the guardian of rule of law, as they have to advise the public at large in regard to the legal rights and obligations, maintenance of law and order and rule of law. The public view the Advocates as men of knowledge, integrity and persons upholding the rule of law. The society had always viewed the profession of advocacy as eminent and dignified.

the Court said.

The main contention urged by the petitioner is that such a dress code is unwarranted as even party in person is entitled to appear before Court and argue the case, and there is no reason for having a distinction between a citizen of India and an Advocate.

Petitioner has no case that there is no power to frame rules. The only contention is that the dress code creates difficulties for a Lawyer practising in Courts. The main difficulty ventilated is the sweating during summer especially in State of Kerala.

While dismissing the writ petition the High Court further held that the rules framed by the Bar Council of India under Section 49(1)(gg) itself has taken care of such a situation wherein it is stated that during summer, wearing black coat is not mandatory.

It could be seen that Advocates alone are permitted to practise the profession of law and the Advocates forms a class of persons by itself, and only those persons who are enrolled has the right to practise throughout the territories where the Act extends, as mentioned under Section 30 of the Act.

Section 34 gives power to the High Courts to make rules laying down the conditions subject to which an Advocate shall be permitted to practice in the High Court and the Courts subordinate thereto.

Section 49 gives power to the Bar Council of India to make rules. It is pursuant to the power that is vested in the High Court in terms of Section 34 and the Bar Council of India in terms of Section 49(1)(gg) that the dress codes have been provided.

Therefore the competence of the High Court as well as the Bar Council of India to frame rules cannot be questioned.

The contention that prescription of the Rules by the High Court and the Bar Council of India violating Articles 14, 19(1)(g) and 21 are not substantiated.

As held by the Allahabad High Court in Prayag Das v. Civil Judge Bulandshahr [AIR 1974 ALLAHABAD 133], the dress of an Advocate distinguishes him from a litigant or other members of the public who comes to a Court.

Apart from identity, the dress worn by the Advocate clearly induces the seriousness of purpose and a sense of decorum which are highly necessary and conducive for the dispensation of justice.

The Court fully endorse with the view expressed by the Allahabad High Court in the above matter.

Petitioner is a Lawyer by profession. His grievance is with reference to the Rules by which Advocates both men and women in Kerala are forced to wear black coat, black gown and white bands to appear in Courts even during summer.

He alleges that it causes severe hardship and inconvenience on account of profusely sweating inside the dress and of making a dignified presentation the next day. According to him, wearing of the said robes is difficult even during rainy season.

This writ petition is filed seeking the following reliefs:-

“i) to strike down Exts:P-1 and P-2 declaring them as illegal and unenforceable;

ii) to issue a writ in the nature of mandamus or any other writ, direction or order commanding the respondents 2 and 3 to make rules for a dress code for Advocates having regard to the climatic conditions and disassociating from the British colonial hangover;

iii) a writ in the nature of mandamus or any other writ, direction or order commanding the 1st respondent to appoint a Commission of Inquiry under Section 3 of the Commissions of Inquiry Act 1952 to enquire into and suggest appropriate dress code for Advocates;

iv) a writ in the nature of mandamus or any other writ, direction or order commanding the respondents 1, 2 and 3 prohibit the intimidating dress code in courts, where children and illiterate rural people are likely to be involved;

v) any other relief that this honourable court deems fit and proper in the nature and circumstances of the case, including a direction to pay costs to the petitioner.”

According to the petitioner, rules or dress code for the lawyers was thrust upon without taking into consideration the actual requirements. It is pointed out that black dress is the mourning dress in England which continued to be the uniform of Judges and Lawyers.

According to him, though substantial changes have been made in various parts of the world, the rules of High Court of Kerala and the rules framed by the Bar Council still insist for black coat, black gown and white bands.

It is further stated that prescription of the dress code without having regard to the climatic condition is arbitrary, violating Articles 14, 19(1)(g) and 21 of the Constitution of India and also Section 49(1)(gg) of the Advocates Act, 1961.

Dress Code for Lawyers framed by the Bar Council of India

Chapter IV of the Bar Council of India Rules Advocates appearing in the Supreme Court, High Courts, Subordinate Courts, Tribunals or Authorities shall wear the following as part of their dress which shall be sober and dignified:-

I. Advocates other than Lady Advocates

(a) a black buttoned up coat chapkan, achkan, black sherwani and white bands with Advocates’ Gown, or

(b) a black open breast coat, white shirt, white collar, stiff or soft and white bands with Advocates’ Gown.

In either case long trousers (white, black striped or grey) or Dhoti.

II. Lady Advocates

(a) Black and full or half sleeve jackets or blouse, white collar, stiff or soft, with white bands and Advocates’ Gown OR White blouse with or without collar, with white bands and with a black open breast coat.

(b) Sarees or long skirts (white or black or any mellow or subdued colour without any print or design) or Flare (white, black or black stripped or grey) or Punjabi dress (Churidar-Kurta or salwar-kurta, with or without dupatta) white or black.

Provided that the wearing of Advocates’ Gown shall be optional except when appearing in the Supreme Court or in a High Court:

Provided further that in courts other than the Supreme Court, High Court, District Court, Sessions Court or City Civil Court, a black tie may be worn instead of bands.”

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