Advocates in Black Robes

Dinesh Singh Chauhan

“Being a lawyer is not merely a vocation. It is a public trust, and each of us has an obligation to give back to our communities.”
Janet Reno
Dress Code
Dress Code is a ‘Symbol of Confidence’, a ‘Symbol of Discipline’ and a ‘Symbol of the Profession’, a ‘Proud Part of an Individual’s Personality’ for a professional. The balance between maintaining Court’s Decorum and permitting freedom in individual’s lifestyle is most well defined in a Lawyer’s Dress Code. The professional environment generally is marked by a code for dressing- in terms of colour, style. Dress Code is a part of dignity and professionalism with little exception. The outfit of Judges and Advocates with Judicial Robes seems a mark of dignity and loyalty towards the Court and the Justice. The colour Black is not touched by display of colours.
Black and White is a symbol of the Legal Profession throughout the world barring few exceptions. Black colour generally has many different overtones. Like every colour, it has both positive and negative connotations. So, on one hand, it signifies death, evil and mystery while on the other hand, it signifies the strength and authority.
The Black colour was chosen because of two reasons. Firstly, colours and dyes were not readily available back then. Purple signified royalty and thus, the only abundant fabric colour left was black. However, the main reason behind wearing a ‘Black Coat’ is because black is the colour of authority and power. Black represents submission of oneself. Just like Priests wear Black to show their submission to God, Lawyers wear black to show their submission to Justice. The colour white signifies light, goodness.
Historical Background
The history of the ‘Black Coat’ dates back to 1327 when Edward III formulated the costumes for Judges based on the “Dress Code” for attending the “Royal Court”. At the end of the 13th Century, the structure of the Legal Profession in British was strictly divided between Judges; Sergeants, who wore a white coiffure wig on their heads and practised from St. Paul’s Cathedral; and the four Inns of Court, divided into Students, Pleaders, Benchers (the Ruling Body of the Inn) and Barristers, who were mostly hailing from Royal and Wealthy families. The English Judicial Costumes worn by the Judges are the most distinctive working wardrobe in existence for more than six centuries (Baker, 1978). The Costumes for the Judges were more or less established by the time of British King Edward III (1327-1377) for attending the Royal Court. The material for ceremonial dress or robes was originally given to Judges as a Grant from the Crown. The Division of Legal Profession in England dates back to 1340, paving the way for the evolution of Professional Advocacy (Waker, 1980). In 1340, in a public reaction, general public opposed the length of the Judicial Attire but the Lawyers obstinately decided to adhere to the Long Robes. The Judges during the medieval era wore Violet Robes in the winter and Green Robes in the summer. The Green Summer Robes fell into disguise by 1534 and after 1534 only the Black and Violet Robes were usually worn. However, Robes can be interpreted to mean Wig and Gown (Abdulraheem, 2006).
Apart from Clergy and the Military, Legal Professionals used to wear Gowns. In Europe as far as Forensic Dress is concerned, a scholastic and ecclesiastical tradition goes back to the days when long mantles were worn by the avocati-consistorial of Papal Courts and the Lawyers of the Roman Sapienza. Reverend Advocates in ecclesiastical and Secular Courts used to wear ‘Toga’ which subsequently came to be the Pleaders Uniform. Long Robes were imported into the Courts first by the Priest-Original Judges and later by those who patronized the Courts since 13th Century (Haque, 2012). In ancient Rome, a Judge used to wear a ‘Purple Trimmed Toga’ when performing his duties as a Judge to derive his authority from Monarchies or Feudal Lords. In England, Codification of Rules for English Judicial Uniform occurred with the Judge’s Rules, 1635. The Rules introduced no change rather set out what and when existing costumes to be worn. After 1635 a ‘Black Robe’ with a Light Colour Fur or Coat in winter and Violet or Scarlet Robes with Short-Pink Taffeta in summer was introduced.
A Black Girdle or Cincture was worn with all Robes. By the end of 1680’s two rectangles of linen used to be tied at the throat. So, in England Judges, Barristers and Solicitors in the 17th Century were using Black Coats, Gowns, White Bands and traditional Wigs.
Three stories are found in England regarding using of Robes. Firstly, Robes adopted in 1685 as the symbol of morning for King Charles II. These “Mourning Robes” were designed to have pleated shoulders and bell-shaped sleeves. Again, the higher ranking Lawyer’s Robes set them apart with flap collars and different sleeves. Similar such Robes are worn today. The wigs also follow the fashion of that era. It was believed that Gowns and Wigs gave a degree of anonymity to Judges and Lawyers. Different styles of Wigs were used depending on the hierarchy. Bands, the Official Neckwear, also originated in United Kingdom, where these were used for Legal, Official, Clerical, Priestly and Academic use. Secondly, in 1694 it was found that all of the Nations Judges attended the funeral of Queen Mary II dressed in Black Robes as a sign of Morning. Since the mourning period lasted a few more years after Mary’s burial, the custom of wearing Black Robes became entrenched in the English Judiciary. Thirdly, in memory of Queen Anne in 1714, the same mourning was followed. Italian Judges resembling English Judges in the 18th Century wore Black Robes, White Bands and White Wigs. Thus from the tradition of three Monarchs, the Black Robes tradition spread around the British and then surrounded in the world and still persists today as part of the Britain’s colonial adventures (Fred, 1978).
But this is the custom started by British. They did so, because it was fashion of that particular era or they probably used it because of the local climatic conditions. As the Rulers, they imposed the same culture and customs on the ‘colonies’ they acquired without taking into consideration the local climatic requirements or general socio-economic conditions. However, many of these ‘colonies’ continued with legacy and adopted the same system, the same culture, the same laws and even the same dress without any changes even after they freed themselves from the imperial rule.
As the Indian system is influenced by its British rulers due to their reign, the Advocate’s Act of 1961 makes it mandatory for a lawyer to wear a ‘Black Robe’ or ‘coat’ with a white neckband on top of it in the continuity of the same.
The rules framed under Section 49(1)(gg) of the Advocates Act, 1961, prescribe the same dress for all the advocates irrespective of whether they are designated Senior Advocates or other advocates.
Even Notification No. 3 of 1958 dated 28.08.1958, issued by High Court of Judicature, Jammu & Kashmir, prescribes the Dress Code to be worn by the Legal Practitioners when appearing in the High Court of Jammu & Kashmir and the courts subordinate to High Court
Except in Supreme Court and High Courts, during summer wearing black coat is not mandatory. These amendments have been approved by the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India Vide Letter Dated. 12.11.2001 subject to the incorporation of “except in Supreme Court & High Court during summer wearing a ‘Black Coat’ is not mandatory” which is now added as Rule IV of the Bar Council Rules. This was based on representation based on a group of lawyers from Tamil Nadu.
The amended Rules in Chapter IV, Part VI of the Bar Council of India Rules relating to “Form of Dresses or Robes to be worn by Advocates” had been communicated to the State Bar Councils Vide Circular No. 6/2002 dated 25.01.2002. The Bar Council of India at its meeting dated 23rd/24th February 2002 considered the doubts raised relating to Dress Rules and after consideration, the following decision has been taken:
“In the change brought about in the dress rules, there appears to be some confusion in so far as the subordinate courts are concerned. For removal of any doubt it is clarified that so far as the courts other than Supreme Court and High Courts are concerned during summer while wearing ‘Black Coat’ is not mandatory, the advocates may appear in a white shirt with black or striped or gray pant with black tie or band and collar”.
Like Law, the ‘Black Coat’ is full of fascination and admiration and somehow there is also an enormous compassion for this mystical object. The ‘Dress Code’ expresses sanctity and commitment of the Lawyers towards Judicial Institutions and enhances their responsibility for the profession. The ‘Dress Code’ is not merely a status symbol but however enables to bring out discipline among the lawyers and also gives the strength and confidence to fight for Justice. It also gives the lawyers and distinct personality from other professionals.
(The author is an Advocate High Court of Judicature, J&K Jammu)