During a routine hearing in the Supreme Court on Thursday, a lawyer who addressed Chief Justice of India SA Bobde as “your honour”, he was schooled by the judge on the ways of address in Indian courts.
As the lawyer rose & addressed CJI Bobde as “your honour”, the Chief Justice asked him, “Are you appearing before the US Supreme Court? The use of ‘your honour’ is in US & not in Indian Supreme Court.”
The lawyer then said that there is no prescribed law on how to address judges in Indian courts.
To this, CJI Bobde said, “It may not be in the law but it is about practice of the court. We don’t use ‘your honour’. Please use the terms that are used in practice in India.”
How to address the judges of the HCs & the Supreme Court has become a subject of debate over the past few years. Petitions have been filed in courts seeking a review of the colonial practice.
Interestingly, in 2014, Justice SA Bobde now the Chief Justice of India was part of the Supreme Court bench with Justice HL Dattu when they ruled that it was not compulsory to call them “my lord”, “your lordship” or “your honour”.
Hearing a petition by then septuagenarian lawyer Shiv Sagar Tiwari, Justices Bobde & Dattu said, “When did we say it is compulsory. You can only call us in a dignified manner.”
The petitioner had sought a ruling for a uniform address to judges in courts across the country. The petitioner wanted a ban on using the phrases “my lord or your lordship” in courts is a relic of colonial era & a sign of slavery.
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 HC to the Punjab & Haryana HC 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 & avoid addressing him as ‘your lordship’ or ‘my lord’.”
The Punjab & Haryana HC 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 HC Chief Justice TBN Radhakrishnan advised all judicial officers under the jurisdiction of the HC 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 HC chief justice had suggested not to use “My Lord” to address the judges of the HC.