New court attire for women attorneys hailed as progressive measure | Sunday Observer

New court attire for women attorneys hailed as progressive measure

Members of the SLWLA sported the new lady lawyers’ attire during the ceremonial farewell for the former CJ as an appreciation for approving the new attire. Seen here are the President and Secretary of SLWLA with the former CJ.
Members of the SLWLA sported the new lady lawyers’ attire during the ceremonial farewell for the former CJ as an appreciation for approving the new attire. Seen here are the President and Secretary of SLWLA with the former CJ.

Chief Justice Priyasath Dep who retired last Friday (12), created history when he changed archaic Supreme Court rules governing the court attire for women attorneys in his final week in office as the head of Sri Lanka’s judiciary. For the first time, female lawyers can attend courts in pant suits and dresses cut below the knee. The new rules also permit pregnant lawyers to attend court wearing something other than the saree.

The Extraordinary Gazette was published on October 5, exactly one week before Chief Justice Dep retired, changing attire rules for the first time since 1978. Saree was the only permitted attire for female lawyers until the rules were changed earlier this month.

Accordingly, female lawyers are now allowed to wear black long trousers up to the ankle with a high neck and white long sleeved shirt with collar tucked inside, the trouser and black gown/cloak, along with white, black, grey or mauve saree and jacket, or white, black, gray or mauve frock below knee length or black coat.

In spite of the steps taken in the right direction, activists have criticised the continued prescription of clothing, including high-necked shirts and prescriptions on skirt length to practising women attorneys.

However, similar attire rules are in place for male lawyers as well, it was pointed out. According to the Supreme Court rules, male Attorneys at Law must wear: “black coat and dark or white trousers and black tie or white national costume or black shervani with dark or white trousers.”

The change was a result of strong lobbying over several years by the Sri Lanka Women Lawyer’s Association (SLWLA). Speaking to the Sunday Observer President of the Association, Sandhya Thalduwa said that they were happy with the new changes. “We brought this to the attention of the Sri Lanka Bar Association (SLBA) through which we sought permission of the Supreme Court to change the rules pertaining to the dress code,” Thalduwa said. Later, the SC provided SLWLA with samples of the prescribed dress, which was worn by the President and the Secretary of the Association on Women’s Day, March 8. The dress, presented to the SC was approved on October 5, 2018.

“We wore the same for the farewell celebration of the Chief Justice, today (12),” Thalduwa said. SLWLA highlighted that most lawyers tend to stray from the approved colours making it difficult to differentiate between them and clients. “The trouser-suit is a more professional dress than the saree. For us, this is a great victory. We thank the members of the Bar Association and the ex-Chief Justice for their unstinted support,” Thalduwa said. Meanwhile, Attorney-at-Law Radika Gunaratne said there was no change in the attire of the lawyers after 1978, while most countries in the world made progress in this regard.

“In Sri Lanka we maintained the gender binary code throughout, distinguishing between the male and female attire,” she said adding “The current change in the lawyers’ attire is a worthy achievement. Now that the doors are wide open one can be attired in saree, frock or trouser and shirt. This is of course a very progressive measure.”

She added that sadly Sri Lanka was still left with the shackles of a colonial past such as our laws. Also shedding light on the matter, Attorney-at-Law Sugandhika Fernando who sparked controversy by wearing a black frock to court said that the only addition to the rule is the suit since the frock was already allowed in courts.

She said even though the Gazette of October 5, states that the rule No. 7 of the Attire of Judges and Attorney-at-Law rules 1978 was deleted by this new law, in reality, it has not been completely deleted.

“It is only an addition to the previous section,” she said.

Recalling the controversial incident Sugandhika said, “When I wore a frock to the court, the media publicised it irresponsibly to create a public opinion that I was breaking the law. However, Section 7 of the rules already had included the frock as one of the prescribed dresses.”

She stressed that what has really changed was the addition of black trouser-suit/pant-suit and white shirt into the dress code.

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