Lawyers ordered to disrobe
IT has been a legal tradition in South Australia for more than 140 years but has now come to an end for hundreds of lawyers.
Robes will no longer be worn during South Australia Employment Tribunal hearings after an edict from a senior judge and a fresh dresscode “reminder”.
The ruling, following consultation, has drawn a mixed response. Some lawyers welcomed the overhaul of formali- ty but others criticised the “eroding of tradition”.
The “direction” from the tribunal’s new president, Justice Steven Dolphin, came into force from January 1 but was communicated last week. It is one of his first decrees since his appointment in November, revealed by The Advertiser’s Off the Record column.
Justice Dolphin ordered that robes “will not be worn by judges and magistrates in any SAET proceedings nor by the legal counsel appearing before them”. His direction also included a reminder to lawyers and other advocates “of the standard of dress expected to be worn” at the tribunal.
For men, this should be “formal trousers, short jacket and tie”, and women shall wear a “style of clothing, which is generally worn … in conducting governmental, professional and commercial work of substantial importance (eg corporate wear)”.
The tribunal handles employment and industrial law cases, equal opportunities issues, dust diseases litigation, workers’ compensation cases and workplace disputes and prosecutions.
Previously robes were worn in certain hearings at its court complex on North Tce.
In 1877 Supreme Court chief justice Sir Samuel Way formalised SA courts’ use of robes, which was inspired by the British system where judges had worn them since at least 1625.
In a statement, Justice Dolphin said the SAET was a “modern, flexible and practicable court” which wanted to provide an accessible but appropriate environment for cases.
“The wearing of legal robes is a topical issue for all Australian courts and tribunals with a range of views being held, some strongly held,” he said.
“Whilst the wearing of legal robes pays respect to tradition, (the SAET’s) future direction necessitates a break with such formality. Standard business attire, not legal robes, will now be worn.”
Law Society incoming president Tim Mellor said the “formal traditional court attire” had changed significantly in recent decades, reflecting community expectations.
“The best traditions serve a purpose,” he said. “Gowns remain in many courts as a way of emphasising the formal and serious nature of court proceedings.
“Ultimately this is an issue for each court to decide.”
Acting Attorney-General Kyam Maher said it was an independent judiciary matter.