In order to have law and order in the society and to protect the rights of every individual, different institutions are established, one of them being the court system. While appointing judges, it is ensured that they are morally upright, courageous, intelligent, and compassionate so that the sanctity of law is upheld in every case. Such people command respect and thus it is essential that they are addressed with dignity, and respect, suitable to their position.
HOW ARE JUDGES ADDRESSED?
PRACTICE IN DIFFERENT COUNTRIES:
1. Custom in the UK and France:
In the United Kingdom, judges of different courts are addressed differently. In the Court of Appeals and the High Court, judges are addressed as “My Lord” or ‘Your Lordship’ if male; and ‘My Lady’ or ‘Your ladyship’ if female. On the other hand, Circuit judges are addressed as “Your Honour” and magistrates as “Your Worship”, or “Sir” or “Madam”. The District judges and Tribunal judges are called as “Sir” or “Madam”. In France, Your Honour is Votre Honneur.
2. Custom in the US and the Commonwealth nations:
In the United States Courts, only the Chief Justice is to be addressed as ‘Mr.’ and other judges are addressed as ‘Your Honour’. Barring the Chief Justice, the other judges can alternatively be addressed by using the prefix ‘Justice’ before their names.
3. Custom in Singapore and Australia:
In the Singapore Supreme Court, as well as the Australian High Courts and the Federal Court, judges are addressed as ‘Your Honour’.
PRACTICE IN THE INDIAN COURTS:
Since, the colonial period, judges in the Indian courts were addressed as ‘Your Lordship’. Post-independence, the same practice was more or less followed. Judges in the Indian Courts were addressed as ‘Your Lordship/Ladyship’ or as ‘Your Honour’. However, such a usage was hardly observed in the lower courts.
In India, there are different statutes that govern the code of conduct for lawyers. Under Sec 49(1)(c), the Bar Council of India, is empowered to set the standard of professional conduct and etiquettes, that is to be observed by advocates. According to the BCI Rules, an advocate is duty bound to respect the court and deal with the judicial officer with utmost respect and dignity. Thus, it implies that lawyers are expected not to speak over a judge and to address the bench politely etc.
However, there was an absence of any explicit provision which described how the court is to be addressed. In order to deal with this problem, a resolution was passed in the year 2006 by the BCI which sought to amend the BCI rules. Accordingly, Chapter III-A(3) was added to Part VI of the BCI Rules. This provision dealt with how a lawyer was supposed to address the court and its judges.
According to the said provision, a lawyer, while keeping in mind the dignity of the judicial officer, is supposed to address the Supreme Court and the High Courts as the ‘Hon’ble Court’ and the judges in the Supreme Court & the High Courts as ‘Your Honour’. In case of judges in the Trial Courts and Tribunals, they may be addressed as ‘Sir’ or any other equivalent word in respective regional languages (for eg. ‘Shrimaan’)
Thus, according to the resolution, addressing the judges as ‘Your lordship’ or ‘My Lord’ was no longer mandatory.
PRESENT PRACTICE ADOPTED:
Despite this resolution, it was noticed that the usage of these titles was still practiced by many lawyers in different courts. Following this many PILs were filed in courts.
In the year 2014, a PIL was filed in the Supreme Court asking that the archaic expressions be banned. The PIL was rejected by the Judges HL Dattu and SA Bobde on the ground that the said terms were never to be used compulsorily. It also said that the court could not direct lawyers on how to address the court; however, the bench also said that lawyers are supposed to address the bench with utmost respect.
Recently, Justice S Muralidhar, who was sworn as judge of the Punjab and Haryana high court in March, requested the lawyers to avoid using terms such as ‘My Lord’ or ‘Your Lordship’ while addressing him. Thus, lawyers and clients can address the judges as ‘Your Honour’ alternatively.
No penalty will be attracted if the judges are not addressed as My Lord’ or as ‘Your Lordship’. In 2017, while rejecting a petition which challenged the BCI rules, that provided the manner to address the courts at different levels, a Punjab and Haryana high court division bench held that a lawyer cannot be penalised for addressing a High Court or a Supreme Court judge as ‘My Lord’ or ‘Your Lordship’. However, if the judges are not addressed respectfully, a contempt of court charge can be levelled against the lawyer.
Despite achieving independence, India has still not freed herself completely from the shackles of the British rule. In many ways, India is still being subjected to slavery by adopting the British court practices. It is observed that many countries use titles for addressing the judges, which is according to their customs and traditions. However, the use of the title, ‘Your lordship/ladyship’ to address the Indian judges, reflects that we are still the slaves of the British culture. It fails to give our court system an identity of its own and a sense of belongingness to the citizens.
Therefore, it was a right step taken by the BCI, in making the use of such title as non-mandatory and accepting the use of other titles such as ‘Your Honour’ or any other regional word equivalent to it. This ensures that the judges are sufficiently addressed with respect and also our court system’s distinctive identity is maintained.
This article is authored by Karishma Rajesh, student of B.A. LL.B at ILS Law College, Pune.
Also Read – Conditions of The District Courts in India