Syariah Court Robes in the Federal Court

From the Blog

Syariah Court Robes in the Federal Court

Share on

As an advocate and solicitor admitted under the Legal Profession Act 1976 and a Syariah legal practitioner admitted under the Syarie Legal Profession (Federal Territories) Act 2019, I possess two sets of robes—one for the superior courts. These comprise the High Court, Court of Appeal, and Federal Court. Another set for the High Court and Court of Appeal of the Wilayah Persekutuan Syariah courts (which comprise of the Syariah courts in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Tawau).

Robes are the required dress for attending open court hearings and trials in the superior courts and syariah courts. If we are not robed with collar and bands (for the superior courts) or songkok and tie (for the syariah courts), we will not be heard by the court. We have to be properly attired when we attend and address the court. I think that’s entirely fair.

I keep both set of robes in the same blue barrister robe bag my father purchased from Ede’s and Ravenscroft soon after my call to the Bar. I keep the bag in the boot of my car, ready to drape for action when required.

In 2022, the courts continued to conduct hearings and trials through online video. By then, I had gotten into the habit of not just bringing my robes to our atelier’s hearing room but leaving them there. I never did that pre-Covid. I mean why bother folding them and keeping them in the boot of my car when I barely had any physical court hearings? It was convenient to leave them in the firm’s hearing room and pop them on before turning the camera on.

The Syariah courts, however, at the time, conducted mentions, case management, hearings and trials physically before the Registrar or Judge. Since I was before them as regularly as I was before the subordinate and superior courts, I left my Syariah court robes in the boot of my car.

I remember a fleeting thought about how this was fertile ground for me to mess things up at some point.

That day duly arrived for a hearing in the Federal Court.

I drove to the Palace of Justice (Istana Kehakiman) in Putrajaya, parked my car, opened the boot, and discovered only my Syariah robes in my blue barrister robe bag. I immediately realized I forgot to include them and broke into a cold sweat despite the warm gaze of the sun on my back.

I could not use my Syariah court robe in the Federal Court. They were noticeably different from my superior court one, which is all black. Mine was made of linen to account for the weather. My Syariah court robe is also black but with bright gold trimmings. Having worn black robes for most of my career, I find the Syariah court robes ostentatious and jarring. I wonder whether they are appropriate since Islam purportedly discourages men from adorning themselves with gold, which could include gold-coloured wear.

I looked around the car park but saw no familiar cars. I took my Syariah court robe with me for whatever they were worth. On my walk into court, I met no one I knew. There was little I could do by then. The only consolation was my Velcro collar and bands were in the blue barrister robe bag. It was one less thing to deal with. I am grateful for small, sweet mercies.

When I arrived at the court, we were the only case fixed that morning. I explained the situation to my friend, who had a good laugh and subjected me to a bout of teasing before coming to our predicament. I put on the Syariah court robe.

‘Okay, okay. Now that you had your fun, we need a solution. You think the judges will let me argue in this?’

‘I doubt it. There’s so much gold on it. You will stand out lah like the sun lah, bro. I can’t believe how bright it is.’

‘I know. I feel weird wearing this here, to be honest. It feels so wrong.’

My friend turned to the registrar behind the court counter. ‘Puan, you think my learned friend can argue with this tak?’

The Registrar smiled noncommittally and said, ‘I don’t know. Maybe you can ask the panel when they come up?’

‘Eh no lah. Puan, is there anyone I can borrow robes from tak?’

‘Takde lah, Encik Fahri. The panel is going to come up shortly, ya.’

I took it off.

‘Bro, why don’t you turn the robe inside out?!’

That was the best suggestion I heard thus far. I immediately flipped the robe inside out. It did appear all black, but it looked ugly and bizarre. The lining and internal white stitching showed on the outside. It was embarrassing to wear and made me feel conscious.

‘That’s a good idea. But I’m too close to the bench. They will notice I’m wearing something funny, lah.’

We stood momentarily, looking at each other up and down, trying to figure something out. The bell that announced the court was in session went off—tinggggggggg. We had a few seconds before the judges got to the bench.

It was then my friend said, ‘Give me your robe. Quick! Nah, you wear mine. Hopefully, they don’t notice anything!’

We furtively and quickly swapped robes; thankfully, his robes fitted me. I saw him seated next to me with my Syariah court robe inside out. Desperation is the father of invention. As the judges filed into the room, I felt my anxiety, stress, and tension dissipate. With the correct robe on, I felt confident, calm and assured. Even if they weren’t mine.

It was an appeal against the sentence from the High Court. The appellant pleaded guilty to the offence of possession with increased penalties (because of the drug’s weight) for 103.62 grams of meth under section 12(2) read with section 39A(2) of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952. He was sentenced to 8 years imprisonment and ten strokes of the whip. The prosecution was dissatisfied with the sentence and appealed to the Court of Appeal.

There was also an extension of time application to put in the petition of appeal out of time. The petition has to be filed within ten days after receiving the appeal record. We were six weeks late. The story went: a pupil picked up the records and grounds and incubated it. My friend only realised what happened when he saw the headnote for the Court of Appeal judgment of his case in a weekly case summary report.

I was invited for the case because I was at the hearing in the Court of Appeal of his case. I had my own case going on that day. We were steamrolled by a challenging bench that went through the motions of a hearing instead of conducting one. I was so incensed by the experience that after the hearing, I offered to assist if his client decided to appeal further.

At the Court of Appeal hearing, our client had a few months left to serve before completing his imprisonment sentence imposed by the High Court. The bench slapped another four years to his sentence for no good reason. The gallery erupted in cries and passionate commiserations after the decision was announced. He sobbed. His family wailed and cried as he was led away.

After hearing submissions of about twenty minutes, the court allowed the extension of time application and the appeal, which was heard immediately after. We succeeded with the appeal because we showed the appellate court prepared a judgment on the basis there were written grounds by the high court, when in fact there wasn’t. … Kan?

After the court adjourned, we exchanged our robes and went for brunch.

Since then, there are always two sets of robes at the back of my car, with wing collar and bands, songkok and tie, and one for the office for online matters. In my line of practice, two robes are better than one, and the wrong one is better than none.

Leave a comment

From the Blog

Recommended Readings

Flexing My Legal Cred

I know some delight in flexing the fact they are a lawyer at every perceived opportunity,

Syariah Court Robes in the Federal Court

As an advocate and solicitor admitted under the Legal Profession Act 1976 and a Syariah legal

The Psychology of Legal Advice

Clients look for the same thing when they see a lawyer: solutions or options.

The Work That Got Away

A young lawyer friend of mine sent me a cryptic message alongside his pre-Raya wishes. He

Room for Slack

As far as possible, I no longer max out my working days.

Starting with Settlement

Matters can be settled. However, parties must be genuinely willing to compromise to end their dispute.

Experience the art pieces
up close and personal.

Some of the commissioned art are installed in my restaurant called
Ol’Skool Smokehouse here. Visit us to savor them in person.