Addressing Judge as ‘Lord’ or ‘Lordship or ‘Your Honor’

A judge is one who presides over court proceedings, either alone or as a part of a panel of judges. He conducts the trail in an open court and hear all the witnesses and any other evidence presented by the barristers or solicitors of the case, assesses the credibility and arguments of the parties, and then issues a ruling on the matter at hand based on their interpretation of the law and their own personal judgment.
In some jurisdictions, the judge’s powers may be shared with a jury. In inquisitorial systems of criminal investigation, a judge might also be an examining magistrate. The presiding judge ensures that all court proceedings are lawful and orderly done.

The ultimate task of a judge is to settle a legal dispute in a final and public manner, and thus affirm the rule of law. Judges exercise significant governmental power. They can order police, military or judicial officials to execute searches, arrests, imprisonments, garnishments, and similar actions. However, judges also supervise that trial procedures are followed, in order to ensure consistency and impartiality and avoid arbitrariness. The powers of a judge are checked by higher courts such as appeals courts and supreme courts.

In India, judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts were addressed as Your Lordship or My Lord and Your Ladyship or My Lady, a tradition directly attributable to England.
The Bar Council of India had adopted a resolution in April 2006 and added a new Rule 49(1)(j) in the Advocates Act. As per the rule, lawyers can address the court as Your Honour and refer to it as Honourable Court.

If it is a subordinate court, lawyers can use terms such as sir or any equivalent phrase in the regional language concerned. Explaining the rationale behind the move, the Bar Council had held that the words such as My Lord and Your Lordship were “relics of the colonial past”. It is proposed to incorporate the above rule showing respectful attitude to the Court.

In October 2009, one of the judges of Madras HC, Justice K Chandru too an unprecedented move i.e. had banned lawyers from addressing his court as My Lord and Your Lordship.

In 2014, a senior advocate filed a PIL with the Supreme Court asking that the archaic expressions be banned. Judges HL Dattu and SA Bobde rejected the petition but said that the terms “My Lord” and “Your Lordship” had never been compulsory, and observed that they were relics of a colonial era. Calling it a “negative prayer”, the bench remarked, “We only say call us respectfully”.

“It is the choice of the lawyer to address the court. Why should we say that brother judges should not accept being addressed as lordship. We have not taken exception when you call as sir,” the bench said.

Custom in the UK
The official website of the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary in the UK states that judges of the Court of Appeals and the High Court are to be addressed in court as “My Lord” or “My Lady”, Circuit judges as “Your Honour”, Magistrates as “Your Worship”, or “Sir” or “Madam”, and District judges and Tribunal judges as “Sir” or “Madam”.

In the US and the Commonwealth
On the US Supreme Court website, a document titled ‘Guide for Counsel in Cases to be argued before the Supreme Court of The United States’ states:
“Under the present practice, “Mr.” is only used in addressing the Chief Justice. Others are referred to as “Justice Scalia,” “Justice Ginsburg,” or “Your Honor.” Do not use the title “Judge.” If you are in doubt about the name of a Justice who is addressing you, it is better to use “Your Honor” rather than mistakenly address the Justice by another Justice’s name.”

The Singapore Supreme Court website also says that the Judge/Registrar can be addressed as “Your Honour”.

In Australia as well, in the High Court and the Federal Court, the judges are to be addressed as “Your Honour”.

The resolution has since been circulated to all state councils and the Supreme Court for adoption but over five years now, the resolution largely remained on paper.

C L Saini, Chairman of the Bar Council of Rajasthan, said it is “better late than never”. “The graph of humanity will rise and will lead to better terms between the Judges and advocates,” he said, adding that BCI rules already say that it is not mandatory to address judges with the said titles.

Ranjeet Joshi, president of the Rajasthan High Court Advocates’ Association, Jodhpur, said, “It is a nice initiative since these words, introduced by the British, were a sign of slavery. ‘Sir’, ‘Shrimaan’ and ‘Your Honour’ are better alternatives to ‘My Lord’ or ‘Your Lordship’. The lawyers have welcomed the move and since it has been decided by the Full Court, its impact will be felt in other states too.”

The Rajasthan High Court will soon do away with the British colonial era system of addressing Judges as lordship or lord.
The decision of curtailing the use of such titles was unanimously taken by the Judges in a full court meeting, the New Indian Express reported.

“To honor 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 Judges stated in the resolution. The resolution was the brainchild of Chief Justice of 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.

“Using the words ‘my lord’ and ‘your lordship’ which are symbols of slavery should be strictly prohibited to be used in the courts throughout India as it is against the dignity of the country,” he had submitted during the last hearing on November 11, 2013 before a bench of Chief Justice P Sathasivam and Justice Ranjan Gogoi. However, after brief hearing, Justice Gogoi had recused himself from hearing the case and the matter was referred to the bench headed by Justice Dattu.

In 2016, the Bar Council of India (BCI) also made it mandatory for advocates to only address the Judges as Sir.

The debate around court etiquette had taken new turn in India i.e. on 15th July 2019, the Rajasthan High Court resolved to censure the salutations “My Lord” and “Your Lordship” from courtroom protocol– a practice that has been inherited from British rule.

Tiwari had said that Justice S Muralidhar of Delhi High Court has acted on the resolution and he insists that no advocate address the court by ‘my lord’ and ‘your lordship’.

“The petitioner submits that the same principle should be adopted by all the judges in the judiciary including the Supreme Court, high courts and subordinate courts,” he said, adding “My Lords or Your Lordships are signs of relics of colonial posts which in other words are symbol of slavery”.

“Unless this court issues a writ in the nature of mandamus, the judges in the courts and the advocates appearing in the courts will not follow the amended Bar Council of India Rules which are mandatory now,” Tiwari had said in his petition.

Justice S Muralidhar who refused to be called ‘Your Lordship’ — was also a part of the bench that repealed, the central government issued orders for the transfer Justice S Muralidhar from the Delhi High Court to the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

“Your lordship has been an inspiration to the entire young bar. We hope we can live up to your example,” a young lawyer told Justice Muralidhar, according to LiveLaw.

It was only 2006 that he was appointed as a judge at the Delhi court. Set to change things from the get-go, he refused to be addressed at ‘Your Lordship’ by lawyers. Furthermore, he was a part of the bench that ruled in favour of disclosing how many Supreme Court judges had declared their assets in response to an RTI.
The Supreme Court bench had then said, “To address the court what do we want, only a respectable way of addressing. You call (judges) sir, it is accepted. You call it your honour, it is accepted. You call lordship it is accepted. These are some of the appropriate way of expression, which are accepted.”

In recent months two instances have stood out in this respect. Justice S Muralidhar, whose transfer from the Delhi High Court to the Punjab and Haryana High Court led to a controversy, requested lawyers in March to avoid using terms such as “my lord” or “your lordship” while addressing him.

A note had been issued in this connection. It read, “It is for the information of respected members of the Bar that Hon’ble Justice S Muralidhar has requested that they may try and avoid addressing him as ‘your lordship’ or ‘my lord’.”

The Punjab and Haryana High Court Bar Association had previously asked its members to prefer addressing judges as “sir” or “your honour”. However, most lawyers continued to use “your lordship” to address the judges.

In July this year, Calcutta High Court Chief Justice TBN Radhakrishnan advised all judicial officers under the jurisdiction of the high court to address him as “Sir” instead of “My Lord” or “Your Lordship” as has been the norm. The registrar general then shot off a letter to all officers of the state in this connection.

In 2019, Justice S Ravindra Bhatt currently a Supreme Court judge — as the Rajasthan High Court chief justice had suggested not to use “My Lord” to address the judges of the high court.

Conclusion

To address the court, some appropriate way of expression like addressing as Sir, Your Honour or Lordship, etc is sufficient and it is also seen in some lower courts addressing judges is as Swami, my lords, Sabji, Sirji, etc. Thus, addressing judges by giving respect and in an appropriate way is essential.

AUTHOR:

T R NAGANEETHU,
BMS COLLEGE OF LAW,
Intern at Amikus Qriae.