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Black Robes for Advocates: The Historical Perspective

Except for a few countries, Black and White is a ubiquitous symbol of the Legal Profession across the world. The colour “Black” of the Black Robes for Advocates generally has several different overtones. Like any other colour, it has both positive and negative connotations. So it is that, on one hand, it signifies death, evil and mystery; while, on the other hand, it signifies strength and authority.

There were two reasons why the Black colour was chosen: Firstly, colours and dyes were not readily available in early times. Purple signified royalty and thus, the only abounding fabric colour left was black. Nevertheless, the main reason behind wearing a ‘Black Coat’ is because black is the colour of authority and power. Black symbolizes submission of oneself.  Lawyers wear black to display their submission to Justice. The colour white, on the other hand, signifies light and the quality of goodness.

Historical Background of Black Robes for Advocates

The history of the ‘Black Coat’ goes back to the year 1327 A.D. when Edward III codified the costumes for Judges based on the prescribed “Dress Code” for attending the “Royal Court” during that time. At the close of the 13th century, the structure of the Legal Profession in Britain was strictly divided between Judges consisting of Sergeants, who wore a white coiffure wig on their heads and practiced from St. Paul’s Cathedral, on the one hand; and the four Inns of Court that was divided into Students, Pleaders, Benches (the Ruling Body of the Inn) and Barristers and who were mostly hailing from Royal and Wealthy families, on the other hand. The English Judicial Costumes that were worn by the Judges are the most distinctive working wardrobe in existence for more than six centuries now.

In the year 1340 A.D., in a public reaction, the general public opposed the length of the Judicial Attire but the Lawyers resolutely decided to adhere to the Long Robes. Here, it may be noted that the Judges during the medieval era wore Violet Robes in the winter and Green Robes in the summer. Eventually, the Green Summer Robes fell into disguise by 1534 and after 1534 only the Black and Violet Robes began to be worn by all the Judges.

As the custom was started by British, when they became the Rulers, they imposed the same culture and customs on the ‘colonies’ they acquired without taking into consideration the local climatic requirements or general socio-economic conditions. And, many of these ‘colonies’ continued with legacy and adopted the same system, the same culture, the same laws and even the same dress without any changes even after they freed themselves from the imperial rule.

So it was that, as the Indian system was influenced by its British rulers due to their reign, the Advocate’s Act of 1961 made it mandatory for all Indian lawyers to wear a ‘Black Robe’ or ‘coat’ with a white neckband on top of it in the continuity of the tradition set by the Britishers. The rules relating to “Black Robes for Advocates” that are framed under Section 49(1)(gg) of the Advocates Act, 1961, prescribe the same dress for all the advocates irrespective of whether they are designated Senior Advocates or other advocates.