Court and I

The awe of law does not depend on archaic forms of address inherited from England

Written by The Indian Express | Published: May 16, 2013 3:37:03 am

The awe of law does not depend on archaic forms of address inherited from England

Judicial correspondence in India tends to begin with an address to the “hon’ble” judge. In court,too,the awe of the law is preserved with gavel and robe and an elaborate protocol for address — judges of the Supreme Court and of the high courts are to be called “My Lord/ Lady”. For decades,the ceremonies of justice have seemed essential to the processes of law. Now,in a startling first,Justice K. Kannan of the Punjab and Haryana High Court has said that he does not wish to be addressed as “My Lord”,opting for the more modest “Sir” or “Mr Judge”.

As far back as 2006,the Bar Council of India had tried to distance itself from appellations like “My Lord”,loaded with memories of a colonial past and nobility. Like many former colonies,India continues with a judicial protocol inherited from England. This seems faintly ludicrous. England,with its King’s Benches and its Crown Courts,traces its judicial system back to the middle ages. Its first professional judges,dating back to the 13th century,were high-ranking clergymen and knights. The system might have moved away from its feudal and political moorings,the rituals remain. Most other democracies have dispensed with the frills: America and Australia favour “Your Honour” or simply “Judge”,Japan prefers “Chief Justice” or “Judge”,and Germany the businesslike “Miss/ Mister Chairman”.

There’s more hope that India may also be moving towards a less reverential form of address. Recently,President Pranab Mukherjee approved a new set of protocols,eschewing “His Excellency” for “Honourable” while interacting with other Indian dignitaries; the names of governors and presidents would be preceded by “Shri” or “Shrimati”. A change in the form of address will not diminish the office in any way. And a judge by any other name would still judge the same.

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