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Dressing for the Court


Dressing appropriately to suit the event or the venue has always occupied the mind of individuals who are concerned about conforming. The courtroom has certain dress codes for every one who participates. It also dictates certain acceptable standards for the public, but it is not unusual for persons to turn up in clothes that are not in keeping with the solemnity of the court.{{more}}

Lawyers’ dress

Male lawyers wear black, grey and navy blue (trousers) suits. Women wear suits (trousers or skirts) or dresses of the same colour as their male counterparts. Senior lawyers wear black but they can wear grey and navy blue. This is the standard for attendance in the judges’ chambers. In open court, they wear white bands (neck wear) and big flowing robes/gowns over their suits. This is compulsory for lawyers who sit at the Bar table to conduct their clients’ cases. They carry their robes in huge sack-like bags. Queen’s Counsel carry scarlet bags; all others carry navy blue. The courtroom is the judge’s court and he can decide not to hear a lawyer if he or she does not comply with the dress code.

You may see lawyers in old robes. This does not mean that they are careless in their dress, but only that the gowns have seen many years of use. The English tradition emphasizes the soberness of the courtroom that corresponds to the seriousness of the matters at hand. It means that the lawyers are expected to blend in and contribute to the solemnity of the courtroom.

Court officials

The judge and the bailiffs wear suits in chambers. In open court they wear big black robes over their suits.

Dress for the public

As a member of the public you may attend court either as a claimant, defendant, witness or as an onlooker. In whatever capacity you attend, you are expected to be decently dressed. You are not expected to wear a jacket and tie or your Sunday best, but you should wear clothes that are consistent with the soberness of the court. This means that you should not wear bright and gaudy clothes and jewellery that could be a distraction in the courtroom. Short skirts tend to attract attention and you are required to be conservative in the length you choose. These could be distracting especially to the jurors who have to concentrate on the case at hand. As a show of respect for the court, you should wear conservative colors, black white or dark colors. Women in earlier times were required to wear hats, but this is a relic of the past and you do not have to wear a hat.

Dress watch

The police officers, court orderlies, are responsible for order and security in the courtroom. It is their duty to make sure that weapons are not taken into court. They have a duty to search your bag. They could refuse to allow you entrance if you are inappropriately dressed.

We try to conform to conventions in the garments we wear to parties, weddings, funerals and school, for there is a time and place for every dress. When my clients ask me what to wear to court, I always tell them to be simple and sober in their dress and to show respect for the court. If you are unsure about how to dress for a court hearing, you can ask your lawyer for guidance.

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.
E-mail address is: [email protected]