Stipulating Dress Code for Advocates cannot be termed as either Arbitrary or Unreasonable: Kerala HC [Read Judgment]

Stipulating Dress Code for Advocates cannot be termed as either Arbitrary or Unreasonable: Kerala HC [Read Judgment]

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”- Justice A.M. Shaffique

The High Court of Kerala has dismissed a writ petition challenging the present dress code of advocates prescribed by the Bar Council of India under Section 49 of the Advocates Act holding that the right to practise as an Advocate being a statutory as well as a fundamental right, reasonable restrictions can be imposed thereon. Justice AM. Shaffique of the Kerala High Court held : “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.”

The petitioner, a practising lawyer, had challenged the dress code prescribed by the Bar Council of India on the ground that it caused severe hardship and inconvenience to lawyers in Kerala on account of profusely sweating inside the dress and of making a dignified presentation the next day. According to the petitioner, rules or dress code for the lawyers was thrust upon without taking into consideration the actual requirements. He had averred in his writ petition that black dress happened to be the mourning dress in England which continued to be the uniform of Judges and Lawyers. According to him, though substantial changes had 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 was the petitioner’s case that prescription of the dress code without having regard to the climatic condition was 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 ('the Act').

The petitioner also sought for a direction to the Bar Council of India and the Bar Council of Kerala to formulate ‘rules for a dress code for Advocates having regard to the climatic conditions and disassociating from the British colonial hangover.’

The Bar Council of India opposing the reliefs sought for by the petitioner asserted its power to frame rules regarding dress of Advocates in Court under Section 49 and under Section 49(1)(gg) of the Act.  The BCI also contended that the Bar Council of India Rules clearly states that except the Supreme Court and High Court, during summer, wearing of black coat is not mandatory.

The High Court of Kerala after referring to the various statutory provisions contained in the Advocates Act observed that the competence of the High Court as well as the Bar Council of India to frame rules cannot be questioned as that power is vested in the High Court in terms of Section 34 and the Bar Council of India in terms of Section 49(1)(gg) and it is in terms of the said provisions that the dress codes have been provided.

The Court further held : “it is the settled position of law that, to practise as an Advocate, it is a statutory as well as a fundamental right, and therefore reasonable restrictions can be imposed. 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.”

The Court also referred to the decision of the Apex Court in Satish Kumar Sharma v. Bar Council of H.P., [(2001) 2 SCC 365] wherein the Apex Court had held that the Advocates form a class by itself. In this case, the Supreme had occasion to make the following observations:

“10. The profession of law is called a noble profession. It does not remain noble merely by calling it as such, unless there is a continued, corresponding and expected performance of a noble profession. Its nobility has to be preserved, protected and promoted. An institution cannot survive on its name or on its past glory alone. The glory and greatness of an institution depends on its continued and meaningful performance with grace and dignity. The profession of law being noble and an honourable one, it has to continue its meaningful, useful and purposeful performance inspired by and keeping in view the high and rich traditions consistent with its grace, dignity, utility and prestige. Hence the provisions of the Act and the Rules made thereunder inter alia aimed to achieve the same ought to be given effect to in their true letter and spirit to maintain clean and efficient Bar in the country to serve the cause of justice which again is a noble one.”

Relying on this decision, Justice Shaffique observed: “Therefore, the 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 also relied on the observations of the Allahabad High Court in Prayag Das v. Civil Judge Bulandshahr [AIR 1974 All. 133] wherein it was held:

“18. In our opinion the various rules prescribing the dress of an Advocate serve a very useful purpose. In the first place, they distinguish an Advocate from a litigant or other members of the public who may be jostling with him in a Court room. They literally reinforce the Shakespearian aphorism that the apparel oft proclaims the man. When a lawyer is in prescribed dress his identity can never be mistaken. In the second place, a uniform prescribed dress worn by the members of the Bar induces a seriousness of purpose and a sense of decorum which are highly conducive to the dispensation of justice. Of late there has been a lamentable slackness in matters of lawyers'dress. We feel that the lifting of a prescribed dress for Advocates and courts is apt to precipitate sartorial inelegance and judicial indecorum. If the rule is relaxed it is not unlikely that Advocates may start dressing themselves more and more scantily and even indiscreetly. The apprehension might be well illustrated by a dialogue which is alleged to have transpired between the Australian squatter and his friend who visited him on his estate far away in the wilds of the interior. The friend asked him why, in so remote a place be made it a practice to dress for dinner. "I do it,"said the squatter, "to avoid losing my self-respect. If I did not dress for dinner I should end by coming into dinner in my shirtsleeves. I should end by not troubling to wash. 1 should sink down to the level of the cattle. I dress for dinner, not to make myself pretty, but as a spiritual renovation.”

The Kerala High Court endorsing the views expressed by the Allahabad High Court said that 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 therefore concluded that the challenge to the rules was unsustainable and accordingly the writ petition was dismissed.

Read the Judgment here.