Cross-examiNATION: Undress the lawyers’ dress code now!

By Alexander Shaw, Columnist

I tried to avoid being embroiled in the furore over photographs showing law students dressed in ‘controversial’ outfits as they participate in the Mona Law Society’s annual Mister and Miss Law Competition.

But I could not sit back and murmur, given my membership of the Bar, and being an academic faculty member – a position that allows me to interact daily with the said students.

The controversy got underway when a withdrawal letter of participation in the upcoming event was sent to the president of the group from Senior Attorney-at-law Peter Champagnie, a man whose skill and diligence have earned him great respect in the profession and elsewhere.

The contents of Mr Champagnie’s letter were leaked to the media and became news instantaneously.

The letter opened the floodgates of criticism, scrutinizing the standards at which lawyers and law students are to be judged.

I must admit from the outset that I appreciate Mr Champagnie’s frankness as, were it not for his letter, we would labour in silence and shy away from a discussion that is long overdue in this global age.

Like medicine, law is a noble profession that goes way beyond one’s ability to articulate and recite legal principles. And many will tell you indirectly, that it is all about your appearance.

But, as a free and independent society, we are yet to fully close the circle of independence.

We continue to hug and nurture archaic British principles that, in my mind, have no relevance in our democratic climate.

I am a lover of bush jackets as, in my view, they are much cooler and comfortable to wear – especially if I have to interface with the blazing sun, compared to the colonial jacket suits lawyers are bound to wear if they are to be seen and heard. What is the true justification besides tradition?

God forbids the air condition unit in one of our courts decides to take a few days sick leave. Do we really need a crushed robe to symbolize the many battles at the Bar? If it is not about appearance, why is it okay for an advocate to wear a beige suit at the lower courts but that same suit is unacceptable in the High Court and above?

These rules are not the brainchild of our current members at the bench and bar, though they are strongly accepted and loved by us.

The time has come for us to reflect on the mode of dressing not just for law, but other careers that have been enmeshed by colonial standards.

In the meantime, let us not take out of context, the Dancehall attire worn by law students at the annual Mister and Miss Law Competition under the theme ‘Jamaican Rewind: from a taller time’. Some persons are of view that the young ladies’ seemingly skimpy appearance would have been okay if they were wearing carnival apparel instead of dancehall.

But, quite frankly, the issue is not so much about preference of a musical genre or Caribbean culture, but more so the maintenance of British colonial standards.

Furthermore, I do not share the view that the issue is centered on generation gap. It, instead, is premised on the need for a rigorous evaluation of the mode of dressing in the legal profession and – if needs be, an overhaul of some traditions that have existed from time immemorial.

Let the change start here!

Alexander L. Shaw is an educator and an attorney-at-law. The views he expressed are not necessarily those of The Beacon. Email your feedback to him at Legalservices.alexandershaw@gmail.com and to The Beacon at jamaicabeaconnews@gmail.com


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