Costume of CAT judges facing big challenges

New Delhi: In a first-of-its-kind controversy, the costume worn by judges has been challenged before a Bar body.

Bar Council of Delhi Chairman K K Manan
Bar Council of Delhi Chairman K K Manan

The curious case pertains to the attire of presiding officers of the principal bench of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) in New Delhi.

According to a complaint filed by a lawyer Sumit Kumar Mishra before the Bar Council of Delhi, most judges unauthorisedly wear a jacket, gown and band which are exclusively designated for ‘senior and designated’ advocates. According to him, they are ‘only entitled to wear a normal suit’.

“Of course, we will look into the issue. We might even send an inspection team. Only lawyers designated senior by high courts or the Supreme Court can wear such a robe. If the allegations are true, we will definitely take action,” Bar Council of Delhi chairman K K Manan said.

There are two types of members who hear cases in the tribunal – ‘administrative’ and ‘judicial’. Administrative members are predominantly retired IAS officers while judicial members are either retired judges of a high court, lawyers or officers from the Indian Legal Services.

Mishra’s complaint says that while only retired judges and lawyers, who are designated as ‘senior’ by a high court or the Supreme Court, can wear such attire, all presiding officers in the CAT are wearing it.

“Both administrative and judicial members, while holding sittings, are wearing jackets, gowns and bands meant for senior advocates. Administrative members cannot use that uniform at all. Secondly, even judicial members, most of whom are non-designated seniors, cannot use that uniform,” the letter said.

Rules 32 and 33 of the Administrative Tribunal Act empowers the chairman of the tribunal to prescribe a dress code for its members and staff with an administrative order. It is this order by virtue of which the members of CAT — administrative and judicial — are wearing the uniform exclusively meant for senior designated advocates.

But Mishra, in his complaint, said: “The rules do not provide any provision to overrule the provision of the Advocates Act nor can the so-called administrative order override the same.”

The issue has been brewing in the CAT for quite some time now but it is for the first time that it has been taken up before the Bar Council in the form of a complaint.

“The uniform for senior advocates has been prescribed under the statutory rule. It cannot be extended by administrative orders to persons who are not eligible. The Bar Council should in fact decide the validity of rules 32 and 33 of the Administrative Tribunal Act which allows the chairman to prescribe the dress.” Mishra added.

Inputs with Mail Today