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Written by: Banya Mahapatra
Edited by: Anubhav Yadav

According to what specifications you address the judge depends on which court you’re in. Each court attribute a specific honorific that ought to be used when addressing the judge, and also the judge should be properly addressed by that honorific.

Judges of the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court are addressed as My Lord, or My Lady, or Your Lordship, or Your Ladyship. It accustomed be the case that justices of the peace were properly said to as Your Worship, but this practice is fading somewhat.

The debate around court etiquette in India has triggered again on February 23, 2021. A bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) S A Bobde and comprising judges A.S Bopanna and V Ramasubraminan was hearing a public interest petition filed by a law student Shrikant Prasad.

When the petitioner, addressed the bench as “Your Honour”, the CJI objected to him, and said, “When you call us Your Honour, you either have the US Supreme Court or the Magistrate in mind. We are neither”.

The petitioner immediately apologized and said that he would henceforth use “My Lord” and “Your Lordship”. To this, CJI Bobde replied, “Whatever, we are not particular what you call us, but do not use inappropriate terms”. The bench told him that in the US Supreme Court and Magisterial Court here, the court can be addressed as Your Honour but not in the Indian Supreme Court.

This is the second representative case when CJI Bobde has spoken out against the use of “Your Honour”. He enunciates the sentiment in August 2020 when addressed as “Your Honour”.

The Bar Council of India (BCI) Rules, which regulate consistent standards of professional etiquettes to be obeyed by lawyers across the country, had in 2006 amended the law making it binding on lawyers to address judges of High Courts and Supreme Court as “Your Honour” or “Your Lordship”.

In Part VI of the BCI Rules Governing Advocates, Chapter IIIA was added by way of a Gazette notification in May 2006 which said, “Consistent with the obligation of the Bar to show a respectful attitude towards the Court and bearing in mind the dignity of judicial office, the form of address to be adopted whether, in the Supreme Court, High Courts or subordinate Courts should be as follows – “Your Honour” or “Hon’ble Court” in Supreme Court and High Courts and therefore the Subordinate Courts and Tribunals, it is hospitable to the Lawyers to address the Court as “Sir” or the equivalent word in respective regional languages.”

The amendment carried a corroboration with it for instigating this variation. It said, “As the words ‘My Lord’ and ‘Your Lordship’ are artefacts of British colonial past, it is proposed to incorporate the above rule showing respectful attitude to the Court”.

Lawyer of the Kerala High Court and the Punjab & Haryana High Court has issued resolutions in line with the BCI amendment shedding the practice of using “My Lord” and “Your Lordship”. State Bar Councils are already bound by the 2006 Gazette notification.

Moreover, when the principles grant the custom of “Your Honour”, the preference shown by the CJI in being addressed by anything apart from “Your Honour” has put lawyers in a fix. In 2014, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court by a lawyer Shiv Sagar Tiwari seeking a consistent standard to be adopted across all courts within the country for addressing judges of the upper courts and subordinate judiciary. Citing the 2006 BCI Rules laying down uniform standards, Tiwari demanded that the practice of addressing Supreme Court and Tribunal judges as “My Lord” and “Your Lordship” must end.

The Supreme Court declined to pass any order. Leaving this choice to the lawyers instead, the bench added a caveat that any kind of addressing the judges should be dignified and respectful.

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