Court dress in Germany revisited

All I know about court dress in Germany is that I’ve seen a lawyer who had not yet put his gown on in the Landgericht (higher court of first instance) treated as if he were not there, which reminded me of the English custom where the judge says in reply to the improperly dressed lawyer, ‘I can’t hear you, Mr X’. There aren’t any robing rooms in German courts as far as I know.

Udo’s law blog today comments on the Mannesmann trial that the lawyers should traditionally be wearing white ties, but they aren’t. Here’s an English summary:

bq. Traditionally, a white tie is worn by defence counsel in the courtroom. (Photo of Sven Thomas, Klaus Esser’s lawyer, wearing a yellow tie). A journalist who was in the courtroom confirmed to me that the other lawyers almost without exception are wearing coloured ties. I usually wear a white tie on the first day of the trial if I don’t know how tolerant the court is. Afterwards I wear a coloured tie if I have the feeling that there are any objections – because if there are, it would not be in my client’s interest.

In the comments, there is one by Udo Steger, who reports on his experience as a trainee:

bq. Basic rule: the older the judge(s), the more formal the dress. The higher the court, the more formal the dress.
Amtsgericht (local court): usually doesn’t matter unless it is a pullover and jeans; older judges prefer to see a gown. No trainers.
Landgericht (regional court): dark suit, white/blue shirt, discreet tie, almost all judges insist on the gown. Shoes with leather soles.
Oberlandesgericht (higher regional court and above): Black suit, white shirt, white tie, black shoes with leather sole
Arbeitsgericht (labour court, like industrial tribunal): Slightly, but only slightly, better dressed than the union secretary.

Udo Vetter adds a few details:

bq. The white tie is/was only in criminal matters, Landgericht and above, and at higher courts (Oberlandesgericht, Bundesgerichtshof/Federal Court of Justice).
In civil matters, to say nothing of the Arbeitsgericht, no-one takes any notice.
Gown is mandatory everywhere except at the Amtsgericht.
White tie is OK, but outside court you feel as if you were in fancy dress.

In England, barristers carry their stuff around in a cloth bag with a tin for the wig. You might see them walking from the Law Courts in London to their chambers in court dress, but they will normally remove the party gear before leaving court.

I expect Adrian will tell me how far barristers are obliged to wear black suits, or often black jackets with pinstriped trousers (if male).

Earlier entries about court dress in Germany and England.

3 thoughts on “Court dress in Germany revisited

  1. Oddly, there is next-to-no guidance in the present Code of Conduct of the Bar of Eng. & Wales – see the Website – as to Barristers’ dress. ‘Respectable dress’ used to be in there.

    Dark suits, black jackets and pinstripes are therefore traditionally worn in court – by convention rather than by regulation. It is up to the judge what s/he will allow in court i.e Counsel to take their wigs off in hot weather and – like the Judges themselves will do – when interviewing children in private or by video-link so as not ‘to frighten them’.

    The outgoing Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, and Lord Chief Justice, Woolf, polled the profession on ditching wigs and the rest of the garb. But the profession voted to retain the essential trappings.

    Lady barristers are supposed to wear dark dress and no slacks, though there was a dispensation for one who had her legs injured in a road accident.

    Baroness Anne Mallalieu tried in one famous tax case to have the expense of her Barrister’s garb deducted for income tax purposes. But the judge would have none of it. She had to dress in ‘something to keep warm anyway’. I wonder whether such a comment would be forthcoming from a non-English judge.

    A (male)judge has also remarked to a lady barrister dressed ‘wrong’ in a bright blouse and slacks when pleading: ‘I cannot hear you!’. She raised her voice. ‘I still cannot hear you..’. She then started shouting her head off until a colleague whispered in her ear that she was invisible to the judge unless she dressed soberly and wore a skirt.

    Small consolation: outside the Brit. Isles, the dress code doesn’t apply i.e. in the ECJ in Luxembourg and ECHR in Strasbourg, wigs are optional and UK Solicitors also wear robes.

    As for Udo’s breakdown of German courtwear, I suggest he pay a visit to Tegeler Landgericht (Zivilabteilung) at Charlottenburg on the way to the (West)Berlin Airport Tegel. I have seen well-coiffed German lawyers, albeit just wearing a robe over a sweater, jeans and trainers – and no baseball cap. The cases don’t seem to be presented any less competently for it.

  2. “There aren’t any robing rooms in German courts as far as I know” — How times have changed. In the late 70s and early 80s, I recall searching for the robing room first thing when entering a courthouse in Germany. Malta, England, Scotland, same thing. Here in the U.S., the restroom at a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts will do – adjust your coat and tie, switch off the cell phone, done. The robing room used to be the place where you would find job offers. Hm, the white tie, when worn in the United States, seems to make people think of membership in a close-knit organization that is better known for black ties on black shirts.

  3. Of course I can’t swear there are no robing rooms. I have just seen German lawyers putting their gowns on in the courtroom. But that isn’t representative.

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