Should a judge be addressed as My Lord? Is it not a legacy of the colonial past? Is it not a symbol of servitude and slavery? Does it not deserve to be discarded? These questions have been periodically raised. Resolutions have been passed. Yet,nothing has changed. Is it a cause for concern?
I think,in the context of Courts,there are matters which are far more important than the mere mode of dress or address. We need to consider ways to improve the legal system than worry about Your Lordship or Your Honour. An incident would illustrate. In a matter before the High Court,the petitioner was appearing in person and arguing his own case. He was getting emotional. Even tense. To ease the situation,the judge asked Professor … what is your field of specialisation? What are you teaching? He answered My Lord! I have not read a word. I have never taught a syllable. Hearing this the Judge asked How do you call yourself a professor? The answer was candid. Not candied. He said,My Lord! It is just like the Honourable with your lordships name. It does not mean a thing.
It is true that My Lord is a relic of the past. It is a British legacy. But so are most of our laws. The Indian Courts follow the rules of evidence which had been enacted by the English in the year 1872. The proceedings in civil and criminal cases are governed by procedure that had been prescribed by the English more than a hundred years back. Our Constitution authorises the High Courts and the Supreme Court to issue writs in the nature of Certiorari,Mandamus,Prohibitio and Quo-warranto etc. These are English legacies. Can we abandon all these as relics of the past?
We have also adopted their dress. We like their tail-coats and morning trousers. The butterfly collars and bands. Long flowing gowns. We even speak their language. The proceedings in the High Courts and the Supreme Court are conducted in English language. Are we doing something wrong?
No! In fact,we can be proud of the fact that we have learnt the English language. Today some of us can speak and write better English than the English themselves. In fact,we have even added some words to the language. Similarly,it is true that we have made some changes in the laws,to suit our needs. In an era of globalisation,we cannot afford to get isolated. We cannot discard all that has an incidental affinity with the English. What is in a name? That which we call a rose,by any other name would smell as sweet, said Shakespeare. Likewise,we may address a Judge in any manner. He would still be a judge. He will still exercise the authority conferred upon him by the Constitution and the laws. He shall wield the same power. He would still sit in judgement over fellow human beings. Decide their disputes and settle their claims. Nothing would change if the Judge is addressed as Sir or Your Honour.
The report in this newspaper (IE,March 17,2009) refers to the resolution that had been passed by the Bar Council of India in the year 2006. Despite its authority,the Council has not been able to ensure compliance. The reason is simple. We are slaves of habit and not of anyone else.
What should really be a matter of concern is the delay in the decision of disputes. We need to consider the need to simplify the rules of procedure so as to ensure expeditious disposal of cases. Today,in a number of civil cases,the trial of a case proceeds at a snails pace. The courts are virtually giving posthumous awards. Similarly,in criminal cases,the accused or even the convicts languish for long in jails before the cases are finally decided. That should be a cause for worry.
There are a myriad matters crying for our attention. We need to focus on issues of importance. Worry about the credibility crisis confronting the courts. The mode of address can wait.
The writer is former chief justice of the Kerala High Court
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