Sunday 20 January 2019

Female trainee barristers to be docked points if skirts are too short or bras are on show

Lawyer holding document and speaking to jury in courtroom. Stock image.
Lawyer holding document and speaking to jury in courtroom. Stock image.

Olivia Rudgard

Female trainee barristers in Britain have been told they will lose points in their exams if their skirts are too short or their bras are on show.

Guidance given to students taking the bar professional training course at BPP University in London sets out a schedule of point deductions for infringements including "too much shirt undone", "short skirts (women)" and "colourful socks (men)".

The list of "offences of professional conduct" itemises the point penalties for students if they are not properly dressed during their advocacy assessment, a mock court situation which tests their knowledge of legal process and courtroom terms and behaviour.

Colourful socks lose a male advocate a point, while wearing a skirt above the knee would cost a female two points, according to the list, which is given to students as part of an advocacy manual.

The most costly infringement is for a female trainee whose bra is showing, resulting in the loss of three points, as would wearing boots with a short skirt. This outfit choice is "an inappropriate combination for court", the guidance, leaked to the blog Legal Cheek, adds.

The university is not the only one to warn students they could be penalised for their dress. The University of the West of England's guidance says trainee barristers could lose two points for "unkempt hair" and five points for wearing trainers.

Dana Denis-Smith, the founder of the First 100 Years project, which highlights women's achievements in law, said the BPP guidance showed how "prescriptive" the legal profession is.

"I still know women barristers who wouldn't dare to go to court without wearing a skirt, even though we've had about 30 years of women being allowed to wear trousers. This whole courtroom environment remains quite old-fashioned."

In one law firm, she said, she knew of guidelines in the past for women dictating the colour of their tights, limiting them to thin beige styles and forbidding them from wearing thick, opaque tights.

"I don't think it's just the legal profession, I think it's an issue around the professions. What is the image of being 'professional'? That needs to be redefined, but nobody is redefining it at the moment."

But, she added, the restrictions for men were equally limiting. "I felt equally bad about the men - I was thinking 'wow you really are over the top'. I think it's meant to be almost more restrictive to drum home the point that justice is important, you've got to take it seriously."

Alongside barrister training, the law school trains solicitors for top firms including Allen & Overy, Herbert Smith Freehills and Clifford Chance.

A spokesman said the list was "indicative guidance only to the sort of dress and behaviour which could adversely affect the advocate in court".

"Our students dress conservatively and smartly for their advocacy classes and... for the assessment, and this is good preparation for practice."

Irish Independent

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