CHIEF Justice Luke Malaba has withdrawn Practice Direction (PD) 6 of 2020 banning tight-fitting, body-hugging and colourful attire for legal practitioners appearing before the Magistrates Courts.
According to a letter addressed to Law Society of Zimbabwe executive secretary Mr Edward Mapara, Judicial Service Commission secretary, Mr Walter Chikwanha said the directive was published by mistake.
He said the issue of lawyers’ dress code was still under consideration.
“Please be advised that the PD was published in error, it is a draft which is still under consideration. We are aware that currently there are consultations with the Law Society of Zimbabwe. We will also be consulting with the Prosecutor General and the Attorney General. The Chief Justice has directed that the Practice Direction be withdrawn which we hereby do,” said Mr Chikwanha.
According to the draft of Practice Direction 6 of 2020 (dress code for legal practitioners appearing in the Magistrates Courts), there is a need to uphold decorum and protect the dignity of all courts by legal practitioners.
It said lawyers who fail to comply with the practice directive shall not have an audience before the court and the presiding magistrate may refuse to hear the legal practitioner until his/her attire meets the new requirements.
For female lawyers, the draft says, skirts must at least be knee length or not more than three centimetres above the knee.
Eyebrow rings and nose rings are not permissible in court appearances.
The legal practitioners must demonstrate good judgment and professional taste in their court attire. The PD 6 of 2020 draft said for every court appearance, lawyers are required to dress formally.
“Only the following colours shall be appropriate and permissible, suit colours shall be black, navy blue or dark grey. These colours shall be solid or lightly striped. Inner shirts must be white, navy blue or dark grey. At all appearances except open court, male counsel shall wear neckties. The ties must not contain distractingly bright colours,” CJ Malaba said in the working document.
For female lawyers, the Chief Justice said the dress code includes pants and skirt suits as well as full-sleeved dresses appropriate for formal business attire.
“When inner shirts, blouses or body tops are worn, these must be of acceptable colours which shall be solid or lightly striped. Blouses must be closed at the neck.
“Skirts must at least be knee length or not more than three centimetres above the knee. Tight fitting and body-hugging attire is not permissible. Shoes worn by all counsel must be black, dark grey or brown and closed. For female counsel, sling back shoes with closed fronts may be worn. Open toe or peep-toe shoes and sandals are not allowed,” he said.
CJ Malaba said unobtrusive jewellery and other accessories may be worn.
“Jewellery that is extravagant or excessive should be avoided. Eyebrow rings and nose rings are not permissible in court appearances. Where hosiery is worn, it must be plain. Fish net or other patterned hosiery is not permissible,” he said.
CJ Malaba said counsel appearing in open court are expected to be fully robed in gowns and jabots.
When fully robed, counsel must wear appropriate attire under their gowns.
“Shirts must be plain white, collared and buttoned. Counsel must ensure that at all times gowns are properly fitted and not hanging loosely off the shoulder. Counsel are not permitted to robe and disrobe in the courtroom while the court is in session,” he said.
Bulawayo lawyer Mrs Nikiwe Ncube Tshabalala said while it is prudent that lawyers dress decently, what is more important is that they uphold the law.
She said the Government should have consulted them if there was a concern over how legal practitioners were dressing.
“We have always been gowning when going to the High Court, Labour Court. We always dress appropriately but if there was a feeling that people were not dressing appropriately, you could pull someone aside without even humiliating them.
“However, of concern is that the directive seemed to mainly target us as women,” said Mrs Ncube Tshabalala.
“Being African women, we are heavily built so to say we should not wear body hugging clothes, and skirts that are three centimetres above knees, it’s something that is an assault and humiliating to us.
All these gowns that we are told to wear, it is a perpetuation of a colonial legacy. Why should I always be putting on dark colours, and tops that reach my neck considering the weather conditions in the country. Can you put on those colours in October, fully knowing how the weather is like during that period?” said Mrs Ncube Tshabalala.
She said it is time for Government to abandon colonial practices in the legal sector like the wearing of wigs by judges.
Another Bulawayo lawyer, Ms Marygold Sibanda said the now-withdrawn dress code guidelines were sexist and the provisions on expected lengths and sizes of skirts/dresses; high collars of blouses for female lawyers amounted to chauvinism.
“The way it gets hot even in the court room which are not properly air-conditioned we are now expected to always be in black gown and jabots on almost a daily basis as we appear at the Magistrates Court daily.
“Again, most jurisdictions are scaling down on robing and here we are doing the opposite. Imagine being in a room of about 10 people wearing a black suit, with a jabot that is tight on your neck and a black gown to top it off. It’s just a recipe for disaster,” she said.
“Who was going to be tasked with measuring the length of our skirts/dresses and whether they are tight-fitting or not? This would have actually led to victimisation of female lawyers.”
Historian Mr Pathisa Nyathi said even the withdrawn dress code does not reflect or dignify Africans.
He said what is important is for the justice system to do away with practices that glorify colonialism and among the first things that must be addressed is the issue of judges wearing wigs.
“Why are people lazy to innovate and come up with something that reflects the Africans’ way of life. That’s where we ought to be channeling energy. This dress code directive was meant to dignify something that was not dignified and something that is very foreign yet we stick to those wigs. It was okay in Britain where it’s cold but in Zimbabwe with its weather conditions I don’t think it’s necessary,” he said.
“We would be happy if he says let’s dignify while coming up with some garb that can be put on the head. I’m sure there are some people who are innovative enough to come up with something different to be put on the head.”
Human rights lawyer Ms Beatrice Mtetwa said:
“Does this kind of dressing bring real justice to the people? What does this add to the justice system? Nothing. Even the British have abandoned this.”
Ms Mtetwa said young lawyers and even some officials from the prosecution division can’t afford half of the proposed dressing.
“We can’t go back to colonial times and we can’t be forced to dress in this manner. It’s irritating,” she said.
Mr Tinomudaishe Chinyoka who has practised law in the UK said regulating the attire for lawyers is counterproductive.
“It is counterproductive, people must dress formally and that is enough. If we start prescribing what people wear, we would have gone past regulation, we will now be talking of intrusion. There is regulation and there is intrusion and JSC is going towards intrusion. We don’t want the kind of regimental type of dressing like lawyers are members of the police force or from the army. We can’t have them dressing like regiments. This is 2020 and they want to take us back to the 18th century. Anyway, who is going to be measuring if a female dress is three centimeters above the knee level?” he asked.