Via a recent notification, the Supreme Court has guided the lawyers and advocates across the country to stop wearing black robes which are a crucial part of their attire. While to some this might not seem like a big deal, but to advocates, this is a big change as black robe is a part of their personality. This article analyses this decision of the court and gives a brief overview of the significance of the black and white color, while comparing the attires across different nations.
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
Corona virus has created extreme havoc in every field and walk of life. While the healthcare industry is the most strained and effected as it acts as the lifeline for everyone, other industries have started taking steps on their own in order to combat the spread of Covid-19 infection. For instance, this infection has forced the highest judicial authority of our country to take some harsh steps such as adapting to the virtual court system. One such recent step also includes the changing of the dress code for lawyers while appearing for virtual hearing. The notification, which has been uploaded on Supreme Court’s website and signed by Srimanto Sen, Secretary, Bar Council of India, states that, “all Advocates may presently wear “Plain White Shirt/White SalwarKameez/White Saree With Plain White Neck Band” during hearings/proceedings before all the High Courts and all other Courts, Tribunals, Commissions and all other forums and no coats or Gowns/Robes are/is required to be worn during such time period during which the threat of spread of Corona Virus looms large and/or till such time the Council further issues another Administrative order modifying/ overriding this order.”
The notification further states the reason of such a step being taken. It states that this order has been issued as a “precautionary measure to check the spread of Corona Virus (Covid-19) infection under the present situation.”
It has been reported that the notification for the change in dress code came after the CJI told senior lawyer Kapil Sibal during a video conference hearing that he was of the view that judges, lawyers should not wear jacket and gown for the time being as it "makes it easier to catch virus". Judges were seen sitting in the Supreme Court on Wednesday wearing only black pant, white shirt and a judicial band.Solicitor General Tushar Mehta was also seen appearing before the bench without the gown in a hearing.
But what is the big deal behind not wearing the traditional black robe? The reason behind the same is that the black robes which the advocates wear makes them stand out from the rest of the masses.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE BLACK ROBE:
“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 higher courts in India are known for its decorum and sophistication. It has a uniformity. Dress Code is a part of dignity and professionalism with little exception. The outfit of judges and advocates with black robes is a mark of dignity and loyalty towards the Court and the justice system. The color Black is not touched by display of colors. Black and white has always been associated with the legal robe, throughout the globe. Black color generally has many different overtones. Like every color, 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. It is believed that black was chosen for two reason; first being that in ancient times, black was easily available, but the second most important and significant reason is that black relates to authority and strength. While purple was associated with royalty, black was authoritative. Just like priests wear black to show their loyalty and submission to the almighty, lawyers or advocates wear black to signify their submission to justice.
White color relates to purity, innocence, and goodness. It is said that the legal system is like a ray of hope to the common man, and hence, white is used to represent justice for the common man. It shall also be noted that lawyers from both the side- petitioners and respondents, wear similar dress code, which signifies that law is blind and does not differentiate.
The black robe which the advocates wear showcases uniqueness of the professionand also creates a sense of discipline, along with power and feeling of being upholders of rights and justice.
In India, the Advocate’s Act 1961 makes it compulsory for all advocates appearing in any court to wear a dress that is sober and dignified and which has been dress code even during the British constitution it was never changed in India even after the British left.
While many countries have adopted a more casual approach such as the United States of America where all the lawyers have to wear professional attire but not a black robe or a black and white outfit. In Afghanistan and Iran, the chief justice wears a white gown and black turban.In Australia, court dress varies according to the jurisdiction. Even though there is a variation, all the legal systems across the globe have a very disciplined approach. This means that even if lawyers don’t wear black robes, they are supposed to be dressed properly so as to maintain the court’s decorum.
The question still lingers if this step will make any difference or not? Firstly, since the meetings are virtual which means that the lawyers are going to be staying at one place and not moving around. Secondly, it seems that the chances of the spreading of virus is equal whether while wearing a robe, or without wearing a robe. But it should also be noted that the nature of the robes is such that they fly around while walking, and since they are long, they cover more surface area thus touching more places. Hence the chances of the robe coming in contact with infection might be slightly higher than others. While these steps might seem small to the people not belonging to the legal fraternity, but for advocates, the black attire and robes are a part of their character and personality. But this pandemic has taken a lot from a lot many people and giving up black robe is just a part of it. It seems as if everyone across the worldhas to start accustoming themselves to the new ways and lifestyle and this includes the Indian Judiciary.