In a latest development in the Punjab & Haryana High Court, Justice S Muralidhar who recently took oath as a Judge of the said High Court has made a request to the lawyers not to use the British era terms- “My Lord” or “Your Lordship”, while addressing him.
The note making the request reads, “It is for the information of respected members of the Bar that Hon’ble Justice S Muralidhar has requested that they may try and avoid addressing him as ‘your lordship’ or ‘my lord’.”
It is to be noted that a few years ago, the Bar Association of the concerned High Court had asked its members to try and address the Judges as “Your Honour” or “Sir”, but the practice of addressing them as “Your Lordship” is still prevalent.
However, this is not the first time that such a request has been made. In the year 2014, a petition had come up before the Supreme Court to abolish the British era mannerisms used for addressing the High Court and Supreme Court, as well as the subordinate judiciary Judges.
The Supreme Court had then made it clear that all that is required is to address the Judges in a respectful and dignified manner and as such there is no obligation upon the lawyers to address them as “My Lord” or “Your Lordship”.
Last year, the Rajasthan High Court had passed a resolution stating, “To honour the mandate of equality enshrined in the constitution of India, the full court in its meeting has unanimously resolved to request the counsels and those who appear before the court to desist from addressing the Hon’ble Judges as ‘My Lord’ and ‘Your Lordship’.”
In 2007, Supreme Court Judge, Justice Ravindra Bhatt (then Delhi High Court Judge) had also encouraged lawyers to avoid lawyers from addressing the judges as “Your Lordship” or “My Lord”.
In fact, the Bar Council of India has also advised lawyers in the past to avoid addressing Judges as “My Lord” or “Your Lordship”. It had advised them to address the Judges as “Your Honour”, “Sir” or “Honourable Court” instead.
The Bar Council had stated, “As the words “MY LORD” and “YOUR LORDSHIP” are relics of British Colonial post, it is proposed to incorporate the above rule showing respectful attitude to the Court”.
There is no doubt about the fact that addressing the Judges and judicial officers as “Your Lordship” or “My Lord” is a vestige of the British Raj.
The practice of addressing Judges as “Your Lordship” or “My Lord” traces its origins to England and Wales where the High Court and Court of Appeals Judges are addressed like that since the Medieval era.
The term “Lord” is itself feudalistic. In fact, it is a title for a British prince or sovereign of a feudal superior. When the British colonialists formalised the Indian legal system, they also extended this system of addressing the Judges to India.
However, the Indian judges, the Bar Council of India and certain Bar Associations seem to be discouraging this practice, not only because of it being a vestige of the British rule but also because it is inherently feudalistic.
The British had formalised our legal system that is why addressing Judges as “Your Lordship” and “My Lord” became a matter or practice. However, the fact remains that India became a Constitutional democracy in 1950, while Britain is still governed by an unwritten Constitution.
The Indian legal system is governed by rule of law, while the English legal system is a Constitutional monarchy. India’s rule of law renders all citizens equal because no is above the law, irrespective of the status that a person enjoys. The supremacy of law is not as strictly enshrined in the English system as it is embodied in India. This is why the King/Queen is still considered supreme in England and the system of Lords is essentially a manifestation of the Crown’s supremacy.
India being a more evolved legal system and an ardent follower of the principles of Constitutional supremacy and Constitutional equality cannot adopt a system of appointing feudal Lords. Addressing Judges as Lords is also a vestige of England’s feudalism that has no basis in India.
It is high time the practice of addressing the judges as “My Lord” or “Your Lordship”, a relic of the British Raj, ended. To an ordinary mind, it is a denouncement of the British Raj, but in substance it actually manifests abhorrence for the Medieval era English feudalism.