Lawyers Must now Gown for In-Person Appearances – Are we heading back to normal?
Everyday it appears as if the pandemic is beginning to fade. The number of vaccines we have administered in Canada is rising and restrictions are easing. However, we have yet to see any real steps taken to go back to normal with respect to the Canadian courts… until today.
A Notice to the Profession and Public Regarding Court proceedings was recently revised today stating the following:
For in-person proceedings, counsel must gown in accordance with paragraphs 59-61 of the Consolidated Provincial Practice Direction. Gowns are not required in virtual proceedings. Where gowning is required, counsel must gown regardless of whether the presiding judicial official is a judge or a master.
In Ontario Superior Court hearings, lawyers have a very specific dress code. This is an important legal tradition that we have imported from our British heritage. However, we do not adopt the British legal tradition of requiring wigs or headpieces. For certain hearings, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice requires lawyers to wear gray or black striped pants or skirts, black waistcoats and knee length robes, white shirts with winged collars and tabs (usually with cufflinks).
Some argue that gowning ensures the lawyers appear as equals before the judge and shows that they belong to the profession and it imbues a certain sense of respect and gravitas into court proceedings, promoting formality and maintaining order. I find the process of robing can be a solemn experience. Changing from my suit to gowns reminds me of the importance and formality associated with the administration of Justice. This formality and decorum, unfortunately, has been lacking during the pandemic with the advent of the Zoom divorce.
Although the Ontario Superior will continue to only hear matters in-person that are sufficiently urgent and necessary, this new Practice Direction shows that we may be heading back into the Courts sooner than previously expected, and in turn, possibly back to normal as well.