Judges of the Supreme Court are not to be addressed as “Your Honour”, said Chief Justice of India Sharad Arvind Bobde on Tuesday, explaining that such salutation befits judges of the Supreme Court of the United States or the magistrate courts in our country.
The remark came while the CJI, heading a three-judge bench, was hearing a public interest petition filed by law student Shrikant Prasad. As soon as the petitioner, who sought filling up of vacancies in subordinate judiciary, addressed the bench 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’.”
This is the second instance when CJI Bobde has spoken out against the use of “Your Honour”. He expressed the sentiment in August 2020 when addressed as “Your Honour”.
The Bar Council of India (BCI) Rules, which regulate uniform standards of professional etiquettes to be followed by lawyers across the country, had in 2006 amended the law making it binding on lawyers to address judges of High Courts and Supreme Court as “Your Honour” or “Your Lordship”.
In Part VI of the BCI Rules Governing Advocates, Chapter IIIA was added by way of a Gazette notification in May 2006 which said, “..Consistent with the obligation of the Bar to show a respectful attitude towards the Court and bearing in mind the dignity of judicial office, the form of address to be adopted whether in the Supreme Court, high courts or subordinate courts should be as follows – “Your Honour” or “Hon’ble Court” in Supreme Court and High Courts and in the Subordinate Courts and Tribunals it is open to the Lawyers to address the Court as “Sir” or the equivalent word in respective regional languages.”
This amendment carried an explanation with it for introducing this change. It said, “As the words ‘My Lord’ and ‘Your Lordship’ are relics of British colonial past, it is proposed to incorporate the above rule showing respectful attitude to the Court.”
Since this amendment, the Full Bench of the Rajasthan High Court in July 2019 resolved that lawyers shall be requested to “desist” from addressing judges of the High Court as “My Lord” and “Your Lordship”. Clearly, the High Court allowed the use of “Your Honour”.
Lawyer bodies of the Kerala High Court and the Punjab & Haryana High Court have issued resolutions in line with the BCI amendment shedding the practice of using “My Lord” and “Your Lordship”. State Bar Councils are already bound by the 2006 Gazette notification.
On one hand, while the Rules permit the use of “Your Honour”, the preference shown by the CJI in being addressed by anything other than “Your Honour” has put lawyers in a fix. In 2014, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court by a lawyer Shiv Sagar Tiwari seeking a uniform standard to be adopted across all courts in the country for addressing judges of the higher courts and subordinate judiciary. Citing the 2006 BCI Rules laying down uniform standards, Tiwari demanded that the practice of addressing Supreme Court and High Court judges as “My Lord” and “Your Lordship” must end.
The top court refused to pass any order. Leaving this choice to the lawyers instead, the bench added a caveat that any form of addressing the judges should be dignified and respectful.