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COURTROOM CONUNDRUM: UNRAVELLING THE CONTROVERSY SURROUNDING SALUTATIONS FOR JUDGES IN INDIA

INTRODUCTION

Indian judicial system is steeped in rich traditions and formalities that shape courtroom decorum. One such aspect is the salutation used to address judges. For more than a century, the phrases “My Lord” and “My Lordship” have been deeply ingrained in legal practice as a sign of respect towards judges. However, in recent years, this age-old tradition has come under scrutiny, with arguments arising over its appropriateness and is seen as a relic of the British colonial past. Since the establishment of the first mayor’s court in India in Madras by the British East India Company in 1687, these terms are in use in Indian Courts for addressing Judges in Courts. In this blog, we will discuss what does the rules framed by the Bar Council of India regarding Salutation for Judges in Indian Courts say, how the controversy started, and what were the recent remarks by Judges on this issue.

RECENT HAPPENINGS

In the last few years, many Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts have taken their stand on the salutations to be used in Courts, however, there were some differences in the stance taken by different judges, some have considered addressing Judges as “Your Honour”, “Your Lordship” or “My Lord” in the Supreme Court and High Courts as appropriate while some have not.

In February 2023 Chief Justice of Gujarat High Court Sonia Gokani beheld that the right way to address a Judge is to call him/her  “Sir” whether a Judge is a man or a woman. Chief Justice of Orissa High Court Dr S. Muralidhar led the bench and remarked that lawyers are requested to not address Judges as “Your Honour”, “Your Lordship”, “My Lord” or with the prefix “Hon’ble”. And beheld that any alternative manner of addressing, and maintaining the decorum of the Court, such as using ‘Sir,’ would be acceptable. Justice Arun Kumar Swamy of Punjab and Haryana High Court has asked lawyers to refrain from addressing him as “My Lord” or “Your Lordship” and not to use “Obliged” or “Grateful”. Chief Justice and other Judges of Calcutta High Court, Rajasthan High Court, Kerala High Court, and other Judges of Supreme Court and High Courts have also presented their views concerning this issue. The lawyers find themselves in a predicament due to the diverse observations made by various judges.

HOW DID THE DEBATE INITIATE?

In 2014, a lawyer named Shiv Sagar Tiwari filed a Public interest litigation in the Supreme Court, advocating for a consistent and uniform standard of address to be implemented in all courts across India when addressing judges in both higher and subordinate judiciary. Tiwari referred to the 2006 BCI (Bar Council of India) Rules that established uniform standards and requested that the practice of using the terms “My Lord” and “Your Lordship” to address judges in the Supreme Court and High Courts be discontinued. A bench comprising Justice S.A. Bobde (Former Chief Justice of India) and Justice H.L. Dattu observed that “Judges have never asked to use these specific salutations, and there is no compulsion to use them. They emphasized that judges should be addressed in a dignified manner. They just want a respectable way of addressing the courts. 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 suitable forms of expression that are accepted.” These were the remarks made by judges while dismissing the PIL filed by Shiv Sagar Tiwari requesting the Supreme Court to issue a directive completely banning the usage of ‘my lord’ and ‘your lordship’ in courts, alleging that such usage goes against the dignity of the nation.

In Feb 2021 this issue again came into the limelight when a law student, Shrikant Prasad during the hearing of a PIL filed by him addressed the three-judge bench of the Supreme Court as ‘Your Honour’ the CJI stopped him, and said, “You either have the US Supreme Court or the magistrate court here in your mind when you call us ‘Your Honour’. We do not want you to address us as ‘Your Honour’. Interestingly this was the observation of former Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde the then CJI who was heading the bench, who was also a part of the bench hearing the PIL filed in 2014, which observed the use of ‘Your Honour’ as appropriate. This incident created huge controversy regarding salutations to be used in courts in India for addressing Judges.

A MATTER OF CONFUSION?

 In 2019  Bar Council of India Chairperson Manan Mishra at the request of office-bearers of the Bar Association of various High Courts regarding how advocates address the court  clarified that “A resolution has been passed in Bar Council of India in 2019 which says based on the most common and preferred practice, lawyers across the country are requested to address the Hon’ble Judges of High Courts and the Supreme Court as ‘My Lord,’ ‘Your Lordships,’ or ‘Hon’ble Court.’ On the other hand, lawyers appearing in Subordinate Courts, Tribunals, and other Forums are advised to address the Court as ‘Your Honour,’ ‘Sir,’ or the equivalent term in respective regional languages. Also mentioned it is not clear if the Bar Council of India Rules had been amended in line with the resolution or not” Bar Council of India has also made reference to the terms used as a salutation for Judges in Courts of United States of America, where ‘Your Honour’ is a form of address given to a circuit judge or a Mayor and said in India this is to be used in lower Courts to address Judicial Officers.

BCI RULES ON RULES ON PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS TO BE OBSERVED BY ADVOCATES.

The Advocates Act of 1961 empowers the Bar Council of India to frame guidelines and regulations governing the conduct of lawyers within courts. In essence, the responsibility lies with the council to determine the appropriate behaviour of lawyers during court proceedings, including how they address judges. To deal with this issue, in 2006 Bar Council of India passed a resolution and added Chapter IIIA to Part VI of the Rules which are as follows:

  1. “Your Honour” or “Hon’ble Court” to be used in Supreme Court and High Courts.
  2. “Sir” or the equivalent word in the respective regional languages to be used in Subordinate Courts and Tribunals.

Bar Council of India has also explained adding these rules as, since the terms “My Lord” and “Your Lordship” have historical associations with the colonial past, it is suggested to include the aforementioned rule as a way to demonstrate a respectful attitude towards the Court.

CONCLUSION

The debate surrounding the prohibition of addressing judges as “My Lord” or “My Lordship” in India reflects the broader discussions on the evolving nature of the judiciary and cultural norms in a diverse and dynamic society like India. It also resonates with one of the ‘Panch Pran’ of Amritkal (A period between 15th August 2022 to 15th August 2047) which is to remove any traces of a colonial mindset. Bar Council of India also needs to amend its existing rules of 2006 in consonance with its recent resolution of 2019 and make changes accordingly to make rules clear for one and all. The Supreme Court of India has recognized the need for reform and has encouraged the use of more gender-neutral alternatives, such as “Your Honour” or “Hon’ble Court.” This shift towards inclusive language aims to promote equality and respect for all individuals within the courtroom, irrespective of gender or social status. Striking a balance between preserving tradition and adapting to societal changes remains a challenge for the Indian judiciary. Ultimately, it is crucial to foster an inclusive and respectful environment within the courtroom while upholding the principles of justice and fairness.

Author(s) Name: Siddhant Samaiya (National Law Institute University, Bhopal)