They say a good cape can cover everything. And if instead of a cape we are talking about a black alpaca gown, with its gathered sleeves, satin lapels and ankle-length skirts, then one can be wearing just about anything underneath. On the outside, the representatives of justice will convey the kind of solemnity they are supposed to.
Or maybe not. Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón does not seem to find this sufficient – at least not in the case of Spain’s court clerks.
These high-ranking public workers, who have the authority to be treated as “Your Honor” and the obligation to wear robes in court, will now be forced “to dress with the appropriate decorum befitting their position” under their outer wear.
So says a draft law approved by the Cabinet on April 4. The text also sets fines of up to €600 for court clerks who dress in an unbecoming fashion. Yet nothing is said about the style of judges and prosecutors. Apparently, it is a given that they will always dress in a tasteful, decorous manner.
“With this measure, Minister Gallardón is proving his own class bias and prejudices” Ramón Álvarez
This is the first time that a dress code has been put down in writing, and affected parties have responded with disbelief, along with indignation. Court clerks feel “offended” – both professionally and personally.
“They are being disrespectful,” says Carlos Arcal, 50, the clerk at Court No. 17 in Zaragoza and the spokesman for the Progressive Union of Court Clerks.
“We preside at auctions, set hearings, direct legal offices... We have earned our prestige, and this brilliant idea is eroding it. We are being forced to dress decorously, as though we needed to be reminded of it, as though anyone ever showed up for work in a bathing suit,” notes Arcal. “What this really reveals is the minister’s outdated, 19th-century vision of justice. The very concept of decorum is from another era. It is as though [Alberto Ruiz] Gallardón lived in a parallel reality. And it is twice as offensive because he does not ask the same from judges and prosecutors, as if they, unlike us, were above good and evil.”
Ramón Álvarez, who is in charge of the justice section for the labor union CC OO, has never heard of a single citizen complaint about the way court workers are dressed.
“What this really reveals is the minister’s outdated, 19-century vision of justice” Carlos Arcal
“With this measure, Minister Gallardón is proving his own class bias and his prejudices,” he says. “Let him define what it means to dress in an unbecoming manner inside and outside the hearing rooms. Inside the room, the actors of justice are already wearing robes. There is even a protocol that clearly establishes who’s who. Everything else is just a desire to underscore the classes at the courthouse, and to establish the kind of etiquette that has been phased out by reality.”
Meanwhile, sources at the Justice Ministry expressed surprise at such a strong reaction to an article that had already been included in a February 2013 report and has been available on the ministry’s website since then.
“There have been many debates, and nobody came out with any objections,” said a spokesperson. “In any case, the only aim of this regulation is to keep dress codes within social usage.”
Gabriela Bravo, a prosecutor with the General Attorney’s Office and former member of the General Council of the Judiciary, is not suspicious of incurring in a lack of decorum. She used to take very good care of the way she dressed, and even made sure she conveyed sufficient gravitas in her official photographs, to “avoid projecting a frivolous image” of herself and her position. But even she considers the draft item excessive.
“Never, in more than 20 years at the attorney’s office, have I felt uncomfortable with any civil servant’s attire. But more than once I have been to trials over misdemeanors in which the plaintiff and the defendant showed up in their bathing suits, during my days at the Gandía office,” she recalls.