The Allahabad High Court issued notice to the Bar Council of India (BCI) on Friday on a plea seeking a ban on the present dress code of black coat and robes for lawyers. The Lucknow bench of the court also directed the Centre and the high court administration to file their responses on the issue by August 18.
A division bench of Justice Devendra Kumar Upadhyay and Justice Ajai Kumar Srivastava issued the notice to the BCI on a PIL filed by lawyer Ashok Pandey. Considering the importance of the issue, it asked all the respondents to come up with their stand on the next date of hearing.
The petitioner has challenged the provisions of the fourth chapter of the BCI Rules, 1975 framed under section 49(i)(gg) of the Advocates Act 1961, alleging that the same are ultra vires (beyond the powers) to the Constitution, violating articles 14, 21 and 25. The petitioner has demanded from the court that it should direct the BCI to frame fresh rules for prescribing a new dress code for lawyers across India in view of the country's climatic condition.
The PIL has also sought quashing of a circular framed by the high court administration, which mandates wearing black robes for appearing before the court. Arguing before the bench, the petitioner stressed that the present dress code of wearing a coat and a gown and tying a band around the neck is not suitable for the climatic condition of the country.
"The advocate's band is a religious symbol of Christianity and a non-Christian cannot be compelled to wear it," he submitted. The petitioner also said, "Wearing a white saree or salwar kameez is a symbol of widows according to the Hindu culture and traditions and there was no application of mind on the part of the BCI while prescribing the present dress code for lawyers in the country."
Criticising the dress code, the petitioner said, "Even a mad man will not go for a coat and a gown in summer but sadly, lawyers and judges are wearing those proudly." The black robes prescribed by the BCI and the high court administration is unreasonable, unjust, improper and violative of the fundamental rights of lawyers guaranteed under articles 14, 21 and 25 of the Constitution, he pleaded.
"When the BCI prescribed the dress code without considering the climatic conditions of the country, it was incumbent on the part of the government to ask the BCI to reconsider its decision, but the government did not perform its duty in order to protect the fundamental right of lawyers of not being forced to follow a dress code that is extremely challenging in summer and against our religious belief," the petitioner argued before the court.
As Assistant Solicitor General of India SB Pandey, assisted by advocate Anand Dwivedi, and the high court administration's lawyer Gaurav Mehrotra were present in the court, the bench asked them to file a counter-affidavit.
Since the BCI was not represented by any lawyer in the court, it issued notice to the council for filing its response.