New Delhi, Feb. 6: “My Lord”, will just “Mr Judge” do'
It was not clear if the “lordships” were amused by the request, but the gavel did not come thundering down either.
The Supreme Court today refused to entertain a plea to do away with the colonial practice of addressing judges as “My Lord” or “Lordship”. It lobbed the ball back into the lawyers’ court.
“Sort out this matter with the Bar Council of India and state bar councils,” a division bench headed by Chief Justice Y.K. Sabharwal said, allowing the petitioner, the Progressive and Vigilant Lawyers Forum, to withdraw its plea.
The forum had contended that the practice “undermined the dignity of lawyers” andreferred to a 1972 Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) resolution for replacing “My Lord” with “Mr Judge”.
Sanjeev Bhatnagar, an active member of the forum, said there was no statutory provision or rule that laid down the manner in which high court and apex court judges should be addressed. But lawyers continue to address judges as such because they do not want to displease them. Nor have judges stopped lawyers from addressing them as “lordship”.
Bhatnagar said “lord” did not have any place in a democratic country. Moreover, a Constitution bench in South Africa, which was also under colonial rule, had clarified in 1995 that judges should not be addressed as “My Lord” or “Your Honour” but as “Mr Justice”.
When told that the “lordships” had refused to meddle with such lordly questions, Jagannath Patnaik, the chairman of the Bar Council of India, said if any such representation was made before the council, it would take it up at its meeting on February 11.
Patnaik said over phone from Cuttack that he was personally “open to the idea of a change” but it has to be decided by the 20-member body, which includes attorney-general Milon K. Banerji and solicitor-general G.E. Vahanvati.
Delhi bar council chairman Ramesh Gupta said if the matter was brought before the council, it would be discussed by the 25-member committee.
“We will take into account public interest while deliberating on the issue,” secretary Abhay Verma added.
Gupta, however, said it was a matter of showing respect and had nothing to do with colonialism.
Supreme Court Bar Association president P.H. Parekh also felt the same way and said it was not an issue that needed to be taken up with such “great urgency”. When pointed out that the petitioners had referred to the 1972 SCBA resolution, Parekh said he would look into the petition and discuss the matter with fellow members before making any statement.
Lawyer and jurist Shanti Bhusan said he agreed with the “idea of doing away” with the practice as it was not in tune with India’s republican character. “Everyone is entitled to respect and so are the judges, but we have to find some other way of showing respect,” he said, adding that today the practice continued only in the UK.
Lalit Bhasin, the general secretary of the Bar Association of India, said according to the Advocates Act, it is the Bar Council of India that has to frame regulations for the legal fraternity.
So till it comes up with an alternative, the men in black have no other choice. “My Lord'”