Lawyers or­dered to dis­robe

The Advertiser - - NEWS - AN­DREW HOUGH MON­DAY JAN­UARY 15 2018

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.

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