Supreme Court lawyers were on Wednesday exempted from wearing gowns and coats while attending the virtual hearings in view of medical advice that there is a greater possibility of the Covid-19 spread through these robes.
Officials said a circular issued in this regard has been implemented with an immediate effect and the exemption will remain in force till the medical exigency exists. “Medical advice to beat the spread of Covid-19 requires clothes to be washed regularly. Since gowns, robes and coats cannot be washed daily, the possibility of the virus spreading through their daily use cannot be ruled out,” said a Supreme Court Registry official on condition of anonymity.
A similar exemption from wearing coats and ties was extended to the Supreme Court officials on April 24.
“… considering the medical advice, as a precautionary measure to contain spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) infection under the prevailing conditions, the Competent Authority has been pleased to direct that the advocates may wear ‘plain white-shirt/white-salwar-kameez/white saree, with a plainwhite neck band’ during the hearings before the Supreme Court of India through Virtual Court System,” the circular issued on Wednesday evening said.
The Bar Council of India rules prescribe lawyers to be “sober and dignified” in their dressing while appearing before courts. In the Supreme Court, a lawyer has to be dressed in a coat, white shirt (for men), white or black sari/skirt (for women), gown and white band. The rules have been framed under Section 49(1)(gg) of the Advocates Act, 1961.
Chief Justice of India (CJI) S A Bobde had earlier in the day indicated that such an exemption was in the offing when senior advocate Kapil Sibal spotted him and two other judges in a courtroom without gowns and raised a query in this regard. He told Sibal that they have been informed about the possibility of the coronavirus “attaching to their robes” and added he would soon issue instructions allowing an exemption to lawyers from wearing them during the virtual court hearings.
“Lawyers wearing coats and ties would be more sober and befitting the highest court of the country. Wearing a plain white shirt does not look dignified,” said Supreme Court Bar Association President Dushyant Dave.
The Supreme Court has been hearing urgent cases through video-conferencing in view of the Covid-19 pandemic that has prompted a national lockdown since late March to halt its spread. So far, no dress code was prescribed for lawyers or judges attending the virtual hearing. The lawyers have made it a point to appear in the top court in their gowns.
A lawyer appeared before the Rajasthan high court in a vest last month and prompted adjournment of a bail hearing and an order asking lawyers to wear proper uniform even when they appear before courts via video conferencing. The court said that the Advocates Act requires lawyers to appear before courts in a prescribed dress. It added the decorum of courts should be maintained even when they are functioning through the virtual medium. The high court had cautioned lawyers to appear in proper uniform after another lawyer appeared in his vest to argue a case on April 7.