In Nigeria, the Rule of Professional Conduct for the legal profession Rule 6(b) provides as follows:
“While the court is in session, a lawyer should not assume an undignified posture, and should not, without the judge’s permission, remove his wig and gown in the courtroom. He should always be attired in a proper and dignified manner, and abstain from apparel or ornament calculated to attract attention to himself.” (Underlined and bolded for emphasis)
From the clear wordings of the above Rules of Professional Conduct, it is clear that no particular dress code was specified by the Rules. The Rules appear to have been lifted from the Code of Conduct of England and Wales which never spelt out what a Barrister’s dress code should be; it only stated “Respectable dress”. In England, today by convention rather than regulation, dark suits, black jacket and pinstripes, wig and gown, are traditionally worn in court by men, while lady barristers wear dress and no slacks.
At the time of writing, we could not lay hands on any specific regulation by any of the Authorities of the legal profession that specifies in detail, what the dress code of legal practitioners in court will be like in Nigeria. therefore from all indications, it is to be assumed that the English lawyers’ conventional dressing code was silently adopted in Nigeria. Perhaps that is why male lawyers in Nigerian courts by convention wear dark suits (preferable black), white shirts (winged collar or white detachable collars) and a white bib, black socks and black shoes; stripped black trousers may be worn. Female lawyers on the other hand wear white blouse, dark jacket (preferably black) and black skirts, covering knees (dark suit) and black shoes with white collarette and bib.
The concern of this write-up is basically the basis of prohibiting female lawyers from wearing trousers in court. One wonders why it is prohibited in court. Perhaps it is meant for decency purposes. If our assumption is correct, then there is an error here. Of course it is imperative for Legal Practitioners to dress appropriately in a manner that promotes respect for the Legal Profession as well as enhance the dignity of Nigerian Courts, but prohibiting trousers is what seems odd. If trouser is bad because it exposes sensitive parts of female body, there are skirts that are worse. It is submitted that trousers are far more decent than skirts as the latter gives more avenue for ladies to expose their body than the former. It is further submitted that with wig and gown, it is not possible for trouser, no matter how bad it is, to attract the attention of anyone in the first place because it would definitely be covered by the gown.
One may go further to ask, is a lawyer not entitled to wear anything that suits him, in so far as it is neat and dignified? Where a judge refuses in court to hear out a female lawyer because she is wearing a trouser, would it not be an infringement of the lawyer’s client’s right to fair hearing as enshrined in the Constitution? Why trying to hinder or fetter a lawyer’s right to self-expression, which right is guaranteed under Section 39(1) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? Every citizen of Nigeria, and indeed every lawyer, is entitled to express himself in any wear which in his own opinion is suitable to him, in so far as it is modest. It is our view that what matters in the administration of Justice is the need to ensure that substantial justice is done in all cases. What a lawyer decides to put on, is immaterial.
Kenechi Obele who happens to be a lawyer, tax practitioner, corporate Masters of Ceremony (MC) described the situation in the following words:
“The legal profession is still rooted in archaic and technical practices. For one, I see no reason why women should not wear trousers to court nor why female lawyers and judges are referred to as ‘men in skirt’ and ‘sir’.” (Underlined and bolded for emphasis)
It is submitted that total prohibition of trousers is unjustifiable. Just the way skirts are regulated that is how trousers ought to have been regulated by stipulating that it should not be tight exposing the shape of their sensitive parts. it is high time the Nigerian Bar Association address this dress code issue as the continued Prevention of lawyers from wearing trousers gives the impression that the legal profession is misplacing a priority in that regard.