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Chinese Lawyers Put on Uniforms
January 2, 2003's first working day, saw China's first uniformed lawyer fighting for his client in court.

Pan Dun, from Beijing's Guantao Law Firm, appearing before a three-judge panel dressed in a new black suit, was China's first lawyer in uniform since China's re-establishment of the legal profession in 1980.

According to a regulation adopted by the country's lawyers' association, Chinese lawyers must wear specially-designed garments effective Jan. 1, 2003.

Pan, dressed in a white shirt, red necktie and black robe with a badge reading "Chinese Lawyer" in English and Chinese, looked energetic and serious.

Prior to the adoption of the new regulation, lawyers dressed as they pleased. What led to the decision to wear uniforms?

A number of attorneys expressed the opinion that, compared with the solemnly-dressed judges and prosecutors, lawyers lacked uniformity and seriousness. Uniforms can overcome these problems.   

"Dressed in uniform, I feel a sense of mission and responsibility," Pan said. "It reminds me that I am a lawyer, rather than just an ordinary person."

Lawyers' robes originated in the thirteenth century in the United Kingdom, according to Zhu Yongrui, who just finished a one-year internship in a London-based law firm.

The United Kingdom's first court trials were held in churches, and as a result, lawyers' robes bear a resemblance to their clerical counterparts. For example, the two white stripes on the chest represent the two stone slates bearing Moses' Ten Commandments, according to Zhu.

Still others hold that western lawyers wore robes and wigs to conceal their identity in order to avoid possible acts of revenge out of court.

It's not easy to recognize lawyers when they are out of court and dressed in ordinary clothing, said Zhu.

Zhu said that, in western countries, the lawyer's robe symbolizes independence, nobility and self-discipline, and it is worn with pride.

Today, the lawyer's robe is on the decline, even in the United Kingdom. Lawyers need wear them only when appearing before chief judges and criminal courts, said Zhu.

Pan said that he believes that the new robe constitutes an important step toward integration with international practices and a sign of improvement in the status of lawyers. He said that it is also a sign of progress in China's judicial reform, which will play an important role in reinforcing the authority of lawyers and of the law itself.

Some say that the use of the robe will also help to detect and dissuade fraudulent lawyers.

According to the regulation, lawyers can wear the robes only when they are playing their roles in court.

(Xinhua News Agency January 4, 2003)

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