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Lordships lost, Raj robes cling on
- Colonial practice scrapped

The Lords have taken their last bow but not the Men in Black.

The Bar Council of India has done away with the colonial practice of counsel addressing judges as “My Lord” or “Your Lordship”, but the lawyers’ black robes are to stay.

A new rule calling on lawyers to address judges in the Supreme Court and high courts as “Your Honour” or “Hon’ble Court” was sent for notification in the gazette on Tuesday.

The rule was adopted by the bar council at its April 8-9 meeting after none of the state bar councils opposed the draft, its chairman Jagannath Patnaik said.

He added that the provision would come into force the day it is notified. In the lower courts and tribunals, lawyers can continue to address judges as “Sir” or “the equivalent word in (the) respective regional language”, such as janaab.

The bar council has explained that “My Lord” and “Your Lordship” as forms of address are relics of the country’s colonial past.

But so is the black robe. Patnaik said the subject was not on the council’s agenda. Asked for his personal view, he said: “I have not thought about it.”

He added that even if the bar council does abolish the robe, it would be subject to the Chief Justice of India’s approval.

Though the new way of addressing judges is mandatory, it will take time for the old practice to stop completely, a senior Bar Council of India office-bearer said. “For some lawyers, it has become a habit.”

However, a complaint can be filed before the bar council if a lawyer uses the old mode of address, he said.

A Bar Council of Delhi office-bearer said such complaints were unlikely to be filed.

The Bar Council of India had acted on a plea by the Progressive and Vigilant Lawyers’ Forum, which had earlier challenged the old practice before the Supreme Court.

Refusing to entertain the plea, a bench headed by Chief Justice Y.K. Sabharwal had asked the petitioners to sort the matter out with the bar council.

The forum had argued that the practice was continuing only because there was no statutory provision or rule on the subject. Lawyers continued to address judges this way because they didn’t want to displease them; and the judges had done nothing to stop them.

Lawyer and jurist Shanti Bhusan said the old practice was not in tune with India’s republican character.

In 1995, South Africa, which had also been under colonial rule, did away with not only “My Lord” but “Your Honour” as well, asking lawyers to restrict themselves to “Mr Justice”.

The Bar Council of India’s draft resolution was passed on February 11. The council had then sought responses to it, including those of attorney-general Milon K. Banerji and solicitor-general G.E. Vahanvati.

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