A CALL for dumping an age-old, firmly entrenched tradition seldom gets any takers. This has happened to the Bar Council of India’s new-found wisdom that the honorific, ‘Your Lordship’, used for Supreme Court and High Court judges, being the ‘relics of the colonial era’, must be done away with.
Instead, the Bar Council of India has enacted a new rule. It asks lawyers to address judges as ‘Your Honour’. When the Allahabad High Court re-opened on July 3 after the summer vacation, the Bar Association notice-board greeted the lawyers with a copy of the Bar Council’s circular, telling them all to go ahead with the use of new honorific for judges.
But the ‘revolution’ that the Bar Council of India intended to usher in remains a non-starter! What to say of advocates in general, even those who are members of the UP Bar Council and practice at the Allahabad High Court are still miles and miles away from the forbidding thought of adopting the new honorific!
Obviously, a practice ingrained deeply in its judicial work ethic since the inception of the High Court can’t be kicked aside overnight. The fear is that a switch-over to the new honorific by lawyers could be viewed by the Bench as a ‘confrontationist stance’ or a ‘gesture of disrespect’. So, none seems to be coming forward to bell the cat!
However, this fear could well be misplaced, says former Delhi High Court Chief Justice Rajindar Sachar. A Chief Justices’ Conference, he recalls, was held in 1971. SM Sikri, who was Sachar’s fellow Bar member in the past at the Punjab & Haryana High Court, was then the Chief Justice of India. Sachar had by then himself become a judge at the Delhi High Court. On his written request, Sikri had the issue discussed at the Chief Justices’ Conference, which ultimately passed a resolution that judges of the Supreme Court and the High Court should be addressed as ‘Your Honour’. So, it clearly signalled that judges were least sensitive about the use of the new honorific.
But, recalls Sachar, the matter was not pursued later on. But the fact, he says, is that the honorific ‘Your Lordship’ survives now only in the UKand some Commonwealth countries. In most other courts, including the highest in the USand Europe, it stood replaced long back with ‘Your Honour’.
After all, he says, we do not address our President or Prime Minister now as ‘His Excellency’, as was the custom under the British. We now refer to them as ‘Hon’ble President’ or ‘Rashtrapatiji’ and ‘Hon’ble Prime Minister’ or ‘Pradhan Mantriji’. No one has suggested that the dignity and stature of these personages have in any way been diluted for that reason. Going by the same logic, emphasises Sachar, in no way will the dignity and strength of the Bench be compromised by changing the form of address from ‘Your Lordship’ to ‘Your Honour’.
Well, India, being a republic, would do well to switch over from ‘Your Lordship’ to ‘Your Honour’. However, a deep, mutual respect between the Bench and the Bar is the surest way of guaranteeing the freedom and stature of the judiciary. So, probably, it would be better if the initiative comes from the members of the Bench in favour of the change. That would take care of the fear among lawyers that a deviation from the tradition would be misunderstood as an affront to the authority and dignity of judges.
Let’s hope the more broad-minded and liberal among the judges—and there is surely no dearth of such judges—will soon set the ball rolling to facilitate a smooth change-over from ‘Your Lordship’ to ‘Your Honour’ by driving away the fright among the lawyers on the issue.
The day that happens, it will herald the beginning of a welcome tradition. The Bench and the Bar will then have taken a long overdue step forward in keeping with the democratic ethos elsewhere in the world.