Not at all ‘Your Lordship’

Not at all ‘Your Lordship’

(Representational Image)

Breaking away from the colonial legacy that still characterises Indian courts, the full court of the Rajasthan High Court last week unanimously resolved to do away with the practice of referring to judges as ‘My Lord’ and ‘Your Lordship’. The court’s Registrar General has issued the following notification: “To honour the mandate of equality enshrined in the Constitution of India, the full court in its meeting…has unanimously resolved to request the counsels and those who appear before the court to desist from addressing the Hon’ble Judges as ‘My Lord’ and ‘Your Lordship’.”

The resolution was the brainchild of Chief Justice of the Rajasthan High Court Ravindra Bhatt. He is known to have asked the lawyers not to address him as ‘My Lord’ or ‘Your Lordship’ during his tenure at the Delhi High Court. This full court order has received the support of the Bar Council of Rajasthan as well. Chiranji Lal Saini, chairman of the Bar Council of Rajasthan, said, “It’s a welcome step and will boost confidence among lawyers while arguing their matter. It will also help to remove fear from young lawyers while appearing before the court.”

The usage of titles and bowing before judges while addressing them, as instituted by the British within the courts, were to distinguish the jurors from the lawyers and those standing in their respective boxes. However, this later developed into a symbol of prestige. As the distinguished jurist Fali S Nariman said, the reason to call judges with elective honorifics is simply because they love it.

Nariman narrates an interesting anecdote in his autobiography, Before Memory Fades: “…a city court judge and a district judge must be addressed as ‘Your Honour’, and (most important of all) a high court judge must always be addressed as ‘Your Lordship’. Years ago, I appeared before a judge who had just been ‘elevated’ from the city civil court to the high court and was particular about how he should henceforth be addressed.

My opponent, who had appeared before him in the adjoining building, the city civil and sessions court, imagined he was still addressing a city court judge and went on calling him ‘Your Honour’. The judge grimaced at this indignity. My opponent had a good case. But he lost! Judges are human,” he concluded, making a succinct point.

‘My Lord’ is a special case because it is an expression of submission: when you call someone ‘My Lord’, you are saying that they are your master, that they have dominion over you, that you owe them service and obedience. A judge who is ruling in a case that involves you may have a measure of power over you, but he is not your master, nor do you owe him service.

It is pertinent to note that the Bar Council of India (BCI) rules, which regulate legal practice, also do not mandate the use of ‘My Lord’ and ‘Your Lordship’ when it comes to addressing the bench. BCI rules categorically acknowledge and point out that such references are relics of the colonial past. However, the rules state that lawyers should use ‘Your Honour’ or ‘Hon’ble Court’ in the Supreme Court and high courts and could use ‘sir’ in subordinate courts and tribunals to address judges.

The use of these honorifics has been discouraged in the past as well. In June 2007, the Kerala High Court Advocates’ Association passed a resolution asking members to not use the terms while addressing judges. The Punjab & Haryana High Court Bar Association passed a similar resolution in 2011. Individual judges have also taken a stand against the practice. In 2009, Madras High Court Justice K Chandru banned lawyers from addressing the court with the two terms. In 2014, the then Chief Justice of India H L Dattu had clarified that it was not mandatory to address judges as ‘Your Lordship’. “When did we say it is compulsory? You can only call us in a dignified manner...Don’t address us as ‘lordship’. We don’t say anything. We only say address us respectfully,” he said.

In other countries

England and Wales: the English use the medieval sounding ‘My Lord’ and ‘My Lady’ for high court and court of appeals judges. Magistrates can be called ‘Your Worship’ or ‘Sir/Madam’ and circuit court judges get addressed as ‘Your Honour’.

Italy: In Italian, you address a judge as ‘Signor presidente della corte’ or ‘Mr President of the Court.’ 

Spain: Most judges in Spain are addressed as ‘su señoría,’ which translates to ‘Your Honour.’

Germany: Male judges in Germany are formally addressed as ‘Herr Vorsitzender’ and female judges are referred to as ‘Frau Vorsitzende’, which translates as ‘Mister Chairman’ or ‘Madam Chairwoman.’

South Korea: Pansa means judge in Korean. When addressing a judge in the courtroom, it is proper to use the gender neutral pansa-nim, which includes the honorific.

Brazil: In Brazil, the judges can be called ‘juiz’ or ‘juiza’, the male and female versions of judge.

US: Justice or Judge (followed by name), Madam Justice or Judge (followed by name)

The resolution of the full court of the Rajasthan High Court is a welcome step that should serve as example for other courts throughout the country. In fact, a lot more can be learnt from Justice M Muralidhar of the Delhi High Court, who follows the practice as prescribed by the Bar Council of India and has urged lawyers to address his bench as ‘Sir’. The registry has also been directed to show the direction as part of the Cause List every day. This will go a long way in ending the colonial shadow on our judiciary.

(The writer is an independent legal researcher)