We look at the various ways advocates and solicitors address the judges that helm their case, in light of the varying preferences of Indian Judiciary and the prevalent norms of the countries across the world.
“Are you in the Supreme Court of the United States?” CJI Sharad Arvind Bobde asked a lawyer appearing for a case in the Apex Court on Thursday. It must have felt like being pulled up by a faculty or senior for the wrong salutation. Still, the lawyer confidently replied that there is no legislation to streamline honoraries for justices.
What the CJI prefers as an honorary, is the British ‘Your Lordship’, a colonial tinge to our administrative judicial structure.
Incidentally, in 2014, then Justice Bobde was chairing a bench with CJI HL Dattu, and the bench in context passed a judgment that there was no specific honorific an Indian advocate had to follow during proceedings.
It seems that the present CJI is sensitive to the norms in a judicial hearing, but this is not so. Justice Ravindra Bhat of the Supreme Court, and the High Court Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana Justice S Murlidhar do not prefer the use of ‘lordship’ when addressed in the court of law.
Justice K Chandru of the Madras High Court went a step ahead and barred the use of ‘My Lord’ and ‘Your Lordship’ as an address by lawyers in his court, as a measure to end colonial practices in the judiciary. This was back in 2009 when lawyers entered the court and were perplexed to find a notice announcing the same. He quoted a resolution of the Bar Council of India resolution of April 2006, requesting lawyers to abide by Rule 49(1)(j) of the Advocates Act.
As per the rule, lawyers could address the court as ‘Your Honour’ and refer to it as ‘Honourable Court’. If it is a subordinate court, lawyers could use terms such as Sir or any equivalent phrase in the regional language concerned.
It becomes imperial to know then, how can you address a Judge when confronted with their esteemed presence? Moreover, with a nation that has adopted most of its proceeding nomenclature and rules from pre-established democracies and nation-states, we must also know how it goes around the courts of different countries.
International Court of Justice (ICJ)
Starting from the ‘Court of Courts”, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) where English and French are the official administrative languages; it is acceptable for solicitors to refer to justices as the accepted in their country of origin in judicial proceedings. More commonly, since the ICJ is a council of judges presided by a president among them, it is acceptable to refer to them as Honorable presidents and Honorable council.
Masters and Registrars are addressed as Your Honour in the ICJ meanwhile.
It is to be noted that a panel of 15 judges, elected for a term of nine years by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and the Security Council, helms the ICJ, the highest judicial resort for a case throughout the world.
Besides, in the International Criminal Court, justices are referred to as ‘Judge’.
Your Worship is the honorary for judges of the peace. However, this practice is more or less phasing out with the replaced version being Your Honour.
Asian nations have a colonial imprint, and terms like ‘Lordship’ or ‘Ladyship’ are commonly brought to use here.
The court proceedings in this disputed province of China are conducted in either English or Hong Kong Cantonese. Several English traditions have been retained in this controversial province, some of them being the donning of wigs and robes during trials. Magistrates in lower courts are addressed as Your Worship, and district court judges are referred to as Your Honour. In the Court of Final Appeal and the High Court, it is common for advocates to refer to judges as My Lord or My Lady, and as Your Lordship or Your Ladyship which is in accordance to British traditions.
During proceedings in Cantonese, judges were addressed as Fat Goon Dai Yan which translates to Judge or Your Lordship. This was a practice before the transfer of Hong Kong’s sovereignty was passed down from the UK to China.
In the Jewish majoritarian state, the practice is to connote justices as Sir, Madam and Your Honour which is Kabowd in Hebrew, their native tongue. Typically, after every naming haShofét is used which translates to “the judge”.
Tuan for Sir and Puan for Madam is attributed to judges in this island nation. ‘Your Honour’ is reserved for judges of the superior courts, apart from which they may be addressed as Yang Arif or the ‘Learned One’. It is also normal to use My Lord, My Lady, etc.; and Your Lordship or My Ladyship during any proceeding in English.
In Pakistan, Supreme Court justices and those of the High Courts are attributed to the colonial titles of Your Lordship or My Lord. There is religious resistance to this practice, but it is still prevalent.
In lower courts, Janab, Judge Sahab and their English versions- Sir and Madam are brought to use.
Moving to our southern neighbour, Your Honour is universally attributed to justices across courts. It is important to note that the Chief Justice, meanwhile is referred to as Your Lordship- reflecting a mix of American and British traditions.
The Honourable is an honorific exclusive to judges of the Supreme Court and the Appeal Court.
In Vietnam, it is common for justices to be addressed as Quý tòa or the “Honorable Court”.
In the European nation of Bulgaria, ‘Drugarju’ or ‘Comrade’ was an attribute for justices during the communist regime prior to 1989. Post that era, Gospodín Sŭdiya or ‘Mister Judge’ and Gospožo Sŭdiya or ‘Madam Judge’ is the accepted connotation for justices.
In Finland, there is no extraordinary address for justices. Devoid of arcane practices, the chairperson of a panel is simply referred to as Herra/Rouva Puheenjohtaja which is Mr. or Ms. Chairperson in Finnish. No customary cloaks or robes are worn, yet gavels are still used. Judges of district courts have bestowed the title of ‘Käräjätuomari’, and the chairman is referred to as ‘Laamanni’ or Law Speaker. Notari or notaries and Asessori or assessors assist proceedings. The Viskaali or referendaries even chair sessions in certain cases.
In France, the presiding judge is referred to as Monsieur le Président or Madame le Président. Panel judges are attributed to as Monsieur l’Assesseur or Madame l’Assesseur.
Out of the courtroom, it is common for judges to be referred to as Monsieur le juge or Madame le judge.
Judges in Germany are addressed as Herr Vorsitzender or Mister Chairman; or Frau Vorsitzende, or Madam Chairwoman . It is also common to refer to them as Hohes Gericht, or “High Court”.
In Ireland, Judges of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, or High Court are officially attributed as Breitheamh Onórach Uasal, or The Honourable, with their designated status of Mr or Ms. followed by Justice and finally ending with their surname.
In court, they are addressed as An Chúirt or The Court, or A Bhreithimh which is Irish for judge.
In Italy, Signor presidente della corte is the attribute for a presiding judge during proceedings.
Edelachtbare is a written, unisex attribute for justices in the Court of First Instance in the Netherlands. Edelgrootachtbare or “Your Great Honour” is brought to use for justices in the Court of Appeal; meanwhile Edelhoogachtbare or “Your High Honour” is attributed to justices in the High Council of the Netherlands, which is their apex court.
In Poland, Wysoki Sądzie or “High Court” is a unisex term for presiding justices.
In Portugal, Meretíssimo Juiz for a male judge and Meretíssima Juíza for a female judge is attributed, which translated to “Most Worthy Judge”. Vossa Excelência or “Your Excellency” is another term used for judges, which is more gender neutral and unspecific.
In Russia, Vasha Chest or Your Honour is attributed in case of criminal cases where only one judge presides. In civil, commercial and criminal cases judged by a panel, Honorable Court is the most common and acceptable attribute.
In Spain, Su Señoría is a term which refers to magistrates of the Supreme Court and other lower courts.
During formal occasions, Supreme Court magistrates are addressed as Vuestra Señoría Excelentísima or Excelentísimo Señor/Excelentísima Señora which means Your Right Honorable Lordship. Vuestra Señoría Ilustrísima or Ilustrísimo Señor/Ilustrísima Señora, which translates to Your Honorable Lordship, is used for judges of lower courts in these formal occasions.
In Sweden, Herr Ordförande or Fru Ordförande, translating to Mister/ Madam Chairperson is used as an acceptable honorific.
Courts of England and Wales have customaries like Justices of the Supreme Court for apex court judges. Of them, those who do not hold life peerages are referred to as Lord or Lady.
The Weekly Law Reports appends the post-nominal letters JSC preceded by Lord or Lady and their surname. Post-nominal letters PSC is used for President while DPSC is attributed to Deputy Presidents in the court.
High Court Judges and those in the Court of Appeal when in court are referred to as My Lord or My Lady, or Your Lordship or Your Ladyship.
Judges of the Court of Appeal were called Lords Justice of Appeal Lord or Lady Justice. Post nominal letters LJ after the surname are attributed to these judges in legal writing.
Judge is the attribute for Insolvency and Companies Court judges in the High Court.
Meanwhile in Courts of Scotland, justices in Sessions, Sheriff and High Courts are addressed as “My Lord” or “My Lady” while being referred to as Your Lordship or Ladyship.
Northern Ireland’s judicial system is almost the same when compared to that of England and Wales with stark similarities in superior courts and a few differences at lower ones.
Talking of Canada, there is liberty in the use of British and US terms or third person referrals like “The Honourable Mister or Madam Justice followed by their full name. Less formally, judges of superior courts are addressed as Justice followed by their surname. The French equivalents of these titles are used as well.
In the United States, a judge is addressed as Your Honor or Judge during court proceedings. The latter may be more commonly used by attorneys and staff, while either is used by the plaintiff or defendant.
It is important to note that there is a specific rule in the Superior Court of Los Angeles County which happens to be the largest unified trial court in the United States. It states that the judge shall be addressed only as Your Honor and not Judge succeeded by their surname, which is acceptable in other courts of the nation.
The Chief Justice of the US is addressed as Mister or Madam Chief Justice, or as Chief Justice followed by their name.
It is interesting to observe that Judges in New York and New Jersey dealing with guardianships, trusts and estates are known as “surrogates.”
Subordinate judges are referred to as magistrates or magistrate judges in the federal court. Judges specialized jurisdiction courts dealing with bankruptcy, or juvenile cases were sometimes referred to as “referees,” but this term is used less and lesser with time. In courts of equity, like in Delaware, they are addressed as chancellors.
Since 2007, magistrates and high court judges are addressed as Your Honour. They may also be referred to as His/Her Honour or The Honourable Justice, succeeded by their surname. In courts of a lower order, Justice is replaced by the term ‘Judge’.
Chief Justices of High Court and state Supreme Courts are referred to as Chief Justice, abbreviated in writing to post nominal “CJ”.
Judges in State Supreme Courts which have a distinct Court of Appeal, like in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia, may be addressed as Justices or Judges of the Appeal. President of the Court of Appeal is attributed to the title of President, followed by surname.
District Court Judges in New Zealand are addressed as His Honour or Her Honour. It is also acceptable for them to be called Sir or Madame. Judges in superior courts of the order are addressed as Justice followed by their surname.
Juiz or Juíza, the literal masculine and feminine translations of judge are used during Brazillian court proceedings. More traditionally, the attribute given is Vossa Excelência similar to Portugal traditions, which means Your Excellency or Your Honour. Meritíssimo is used as a pronoun and stands for Your Honour. Panelist judges in the State or Federal Court are referred to as Desembargadores.
Judges sitting in the Supremo Tribunal Federal and equivalent eminent courts are referred to as Ministro or Ministra, or more formally Vossa Excelência.
Nations have adapted honoraries from the most traditional and oldest-existing developed civilizations and democracies, but it is refreshing to use linguistic translations in proceedings as it makes the process more relatable to a country’s social and cultural habitat. There is no doubt that a learned and esteemed individual, who deserves the title of a judge and brings justice on behalf of superior powers to the distraught, must be respected without compromise. But it is a question to our system- is respect just in an honorific, or it is also in the heart? Reflection of the same in diplomacy sets a precedent, and every judge works hard to expect the same honour that was bestowed on his or her predecessors. Yet, a healthy change will include our own modifications and linguistic liberties rather than colonial precedents which reflect a past of slavery and unoriginality. A nation of diverse tongues, India must come up with honoraries that stay true to the nature of our diverse and unique culture, a melting pot of languages and civilizations.
Views are personal only.
(Author is a final year student of Journalism in Delhi University)