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‘Your Honour’ or ‘My Lord’, How Should Lawyers Address Judges?

Your Honour, Your Lordship, or My Lord? Here’s a look at confusion over salutations in the higher Indian judiciary. 

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Video Editor: Prashant Chauhan

‘Your Honour’, ‘My Lord’, or ‘Your Lordship’? Learned counsels across courtrooms in India are confused about court salutations, without which they cannot begin or present an argument.

In simple words, lawyers are puzzled about what exactly to call a judge in the higher echelons of the judiciary – the high courts and the Supreme Court.

But why are lawyers confused?

On 23 February, a petitioner, who happened to be a law student, was addressing the court as ‘Your Honour’ when he was stopped short by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde.

According to The Indian Express, CJI Bobde said, “when you call us Your Honour, you either have the Supreme Court of United States or the Magistrate in mind. We are neither.”

When the law student quickly apologised and called the court ‘your lordship’, CJI Bobde said “Whatever. We are not particular what you call us. But don’t use incorrect terms.”

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What are the rules for addressing judges?

The Advocates Act of 1961 allows the Bar Council of India to formulate guidelines and rules on the conduct of lawyers in courts. In other words, it is the council that is entrusted with the task of deciding how lawyers behave in courts and thereby the ways in which they can address judges.

In 2006, the BCI passed a resolution saying:

  • Use of colonial relics like ‘My Lord’ and ‘Your Lordship’ should be discouraged.
  • ‘Your Honour’ and ‘Hon’ble Court’ can be used to address judges in high courts and the Supreme Court.
  • Sir or Madam in subordinate courts and tribunals.

However, following the CJI’s remarks, BCI Chairperson Manan Mishra issued a statement saying that in September 2019, it had asked lawyers to address judges in the high courts and the Supreme Court as either ‘My Lord’, ‘Your Lordship,’ or ‘Hon’ble Court,’ reported news agency PTI.

“...it was resolved that as per mostly preferred and prevalent practice, lawyers of the country be requested to address the Hon’ble Judges of various High Courts and Supreme Court as ‘My Lord’ or ‘Your Lordships’ or ‘Hon’ble Court’ while Lawyers of Subordinate Courts, Tribunals and other Forums may address the Court as ‘Your Honour’ or ‘Sir’ or the equivalent word in respective regional languages.”
Statement issued by BCI Chairperson Manan Mishra
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What are lawyers saying?

Mukul Rohatgi, Senior Counsel & Former Attorney General of India: "I beg to disagree with the Chief Justice for several reasons. One, it was a case of a student who was appearing, and a student may or may not know the full regiment or a regimentation in a court. Secondly, he was not disrespectful, therefore, there was no need to caution him. Thirdly and most importantly, if the Bar Council says that you can address in a respectable fashion, whether it is 'Your Honour' or 'Sir', according to me, it should make no difference."

Justice Madan Lokur, Former Supreme Court Judge: "Many years ago, when justice PN Bhagwati was the Chief Justice of India, I was sitting in his courtroom waiting for a case to come and there was a party in person, who kept addressing the judges as 'Mai-Baap' and nobody had any objection to it, so I don't think judges are so touchy about this...I don't know whether the Chief Justice said it in jocularly, you know in a sort of non-serious way."

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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