A lawyer can challenge everything. Many a times, even universal truths. So how could the black gown be an exception? In June 2016, the Madras High Court dealt with a PIL by a lawyer who was demanding that it be ensured across all courts that the lawyers are wearing the proper dress. The High Court said that most of the lawyers do abide by the dress code and hence there was no need to issue fresh directions. Anyway, if someone was found to be in violation, then that specific case could be individually dealt. Does that mean that all the lawyers are happy with what they wear? No.

In the summer this year, lawyers of Calcutta High Court wrote to the Chief Justice, asking that the summer vacations be extended due to the unbearable heat. The lawyers also prayed that the system of gowns be re-looked at, considering the heat. The Bar Council of India too had supported the move of lawyers in lower courts not mandatorily having to wear black gowns. But nothing came out the move, neither the vacations were extended, nor the black gown was made optional.

A challenge to the constitutional validity of having to wearing a gown was made before the Kerala High Court. In its 2015 judgment, the High Court held that wearing a black gown was a reasonable restriction and hence within constitutional norms.

Thus, the challenge to gown has always seen failure. The Kerala High Court relied on multiple judgments that provided for lawyers as a class, and the need for differentiating them from litigants. Perhaps it is the system of privileges that the lawyers have designed from themselves that needs to change. A mere I-Card can differentiate a layman from a lawyer. Why do we need to celebrate landmark judgments wearing a mourning dress?

 

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