Following the recent discussion about the quality of legal aid lawyers and how to weed out the dodgy ones, another initiative has been lodged, this time focussing on appearance. Apparently dress standards in the courts had been slipping over time. This has lead to a discussion whether lawyers should be required to wear gowns at District Court level (a common practise in many other jurisdictions, including Germany and France, where gowns are compulsory at any court level). The main arguments in support include
– To remind counsel that they are an officer of the court
– To ensure court formality is observed
– To demonstrate to the public that legal counsel have obligations and standing and ensure a uniformity of standard.
There can not, surely, be much of an argument about all this, except maybe for the cost (around $1000 for a standard gown). But if practise in other jurisdictions, where wearing a gown is compulsory, is any indication, then wearing a gown will have not much of an effect at all. As with every other piece of clothing, it very much depends on the person wearing it how they present themselves. There are people who wear a suit every day and still look shabby. Look at school uniforms. Some pupils take pride in their appearance and look neat and tidy. Other seems to be sleeping in them.
There will be the lawyers who will enjoy wearing a gown and probably look even more respectable than they did before. And others will still look like as if they had just come straight out of bed after a long night at the pub.
At least the Law Society is aware and accepts “without any hesitation that the wearing of gowns does not increase experience, competence, forensic skill or court craft”.