Judge bars woman lawyer for wearing pants

Mr. Justice Frederico said he did not allow women to appear in his court in pants. “Therefore, I refuse to take your appearance,” the judge said.

A stunned Ms. Head was struggling for words when Mr. Justice Frederico said: “I am not even going to hear you on the question of whether or not I should hear you. This case is adjourned.” His honor stood and left the court.

Ms. Head’s client had come from Sydney for the case. She said yesterday: “He was absolutely astounded. He could not believe it.

“I was very angry not only for myself but that my client was put in the position of not having anyone to appear for him for such a petty reason. I thought it downgraded the whole of the Family Court, which is supposed to be an informal, helping court,” she said.

Mr. Justice Frederico, 51, would not comment on the incident when contacted last night but sources close to him say it was his belief that Ms. Head was wearing jeans. Ms. Head insists this was not so and this has been supported by others present in the court.

The senior judge of the Family Court in Melbourne, Mr. Justice Asche, said yesterday: “It is for each individual judge to determine what is decorum in his own court.”

Ron Tandberg cartoon published May 21, 1983.Credit:Ron Tandberg

But he said that now the issue had been brought to his attention, “I will raise it with the judges to find some appropriate guidelines covering female dress.”

News of the incident has caused widespread concern in legal circles. The president of the Law Institute of Victoria, Mr. Jack Harty, yesterday described the judge’s actions as “overkill”. “Slacks these days are quite acceptable dress for women. Whether she wore a dress or slacks should not have upset anybody,” he said.

Ms. Head has written to the Women Lawyers’ Association: “My own view is that although one should be well dressed whilst appearing at court and should not dress in a casual manner which indicates disrespect for the court, yet this does not require the wearing of dresses and that in fact many women look better dressed in slacks than in a dress.

“If substantial support is found for this view I would intend raising it at the Law Institute Council to ask the institute to make representations to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the Family Court so that conventions of dress applicable to female solicitors are clarified. I would be please to hear from you.”

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