Justice T B N Radhakrishnan, the Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court has recently suggested that he would like to be addressed as 'Sir' by all judicial officers coming under the jurisdiction of the Calcutta High Court instead of 'My Lord' or 'Your Lordship', as the judges usually address the Chief Justice and other judges of the High Court. The Chief Justice asked the Registrar General of the High Court to write a letter to all the judicial officers and request them to discontinue the practice of using words like 'My Lord' or 'Your Lordship' and to address him as 'Sir'. As desired, the Registrar General conveyed the message to all judicial officers of the state accordingly. The media quickly captured this news. This is indeed a good initiative taken by the Chief Justice of the High Court of Calcutta. Hopefully, it is likely to give a broad message to the legal fraternity.
It is pertinent to mention that Chief Justice Radhakrishnan is not the first judge who tried to deviate from the colonial practice of addressing judges as 'My Lord'. In 2019, the High Court of Rajasthan led by the then Chief Justice S. Ravindra Bhatt had also taken a similar view. Justice Bhatt, who is now in the Supreme Court is known for his simplicity, erudition, and humble nature. The decision was highly appreciated by the legal fraternity. Recently when Justice S. Muralidhar joined the High Court of Punjab and Haryana, he also requested the Bar to avoid referring him as 'My Lord' or 'Your Lordship.' He had also made similar requests when he was a judge of the Delhi High Court. The Madras High Court had also orally observed in the past that 'Your Lordships' which exhibits the colonial mindset must be avoided.
A Supreme Court Bench led by the then Chief Justice H L Dattu in 2014 had also observed that the use of these phrases is not necessary. Hearing a petition moved by an advocate to do away with colonial practice the bench observed: "When did we say it is compulsory?" Similar approach was taken by the Supreme Court Bench led by Chief Justice Sathashivam when hearing in PIL he observed that "how can a direction of mandamus be issued in such cases? Does any judge insist on being called by these terms?" This defence of the Supreme Court may not be justified because there are instances where different kinds of views have been noted. Many people in the Bar believe that if they don't address judges as 'My Lord', they may not get a positive response from the Bench. Some judges are very touchy who seriously note these words. Hence, a direction from the Supreme Court especially the Chief Justice of India would give a confidence to discourage this practice.
The Bar Council of India Rules also concede that addressing judges as 'My Lord' or 'Your Lordship' is not mandatory. The Bar Council in fact has suggested lawyers to address judges as 'Your Honour' or 'Honourable Court'. For subordinate courts, the lawyers are advised to address the judges as 'Sir', 'Madam', or any equivalent words in their respective regional languages like Srimanji in Hindi. The Bar Associations of Kerala High Court and Punjab & Haryana High Court had also passed similar resolutions in the past.
But, despite all these scattered efforts, the practice is continuing in all High Courts and the Supreme Court. Many lawyers dislike this practice in private conversations but nobody dares to speak on this issue in public. Similarly, there are many judges who criticize this colonial practice, but do not ask lawyers to give it up when someone addresses them as 'My Lord' in their respective courts. The full court also has no time to think about this issue. The Supreme Court Rules are also silent about this. The Bench as well as the Bar should make serious efforts to abolish this undignified colonial practice that goes against the judicial ethics, collective dignity of the Bar and mutually respectful working environment. Lawyers are officers of the Court who are duty bound to assist the Court in delivering justice to the people and the judges are equally bound to discharge their judicial functions in accordance with the constitutional ethos and principles.
It is commonly believed that words like 'My Lord', or 'Your Lordship' reflect the colonial mindset which needs to be given up in the contemporary times. It has been observed that many lawyers use these words unnecessarily. There are some lawyers who use words 'My Lord' or 'Your Lordship' 10-15 times within a few minutes of their arguments. They focus less on merits of their case. The judges truly deserve respect. The words like 'Sir' and 'Madam' are equally respectful and professionally sound which are used across the globe in various professions. There are some top court judges who also address lawyers 'Sir' and 'Madam'. It shows their commitment to the idea of dignity and mutual respect. Such judges get more respect from the Bar as well as the Bench. The lawyers should be advised to focus more on their case not only the honorifics. We ask a question to myself: Do judges like words such as 'My Lord'. We think many of them appreciate it. Mr. Fali S Nariman states that judges like these kinds of honorifics. He states that each judge should be addressed according to the manner in which his station entitles him. He says that a High Court judge must always be addressed as 'Your Lordship'. Believe me, the judges simply love it, he states. In his autobiography, Before Memory Fades, Mr Nariman narrates an interesting anecdote: "Years ago, I appeared before a judge who had just been elevated from the city civil court to the High Court, and was particular about how he should hence forth be addressed. My opponent who had appeared before him in the adjoining building, the city civil and Sessions Court, imagined he was still addressing a city court judge and went on calling him 'Your Honour'. The judge grimaced at this indignity. My opponent had a good case. But he lost! Judges are human" (Fali S. Nariman, Before Memory Fades, at page 103-104, Hay House India, 2010).