The debate over whether judges should be addressed with the differential British era “My Lord” or “Your Honour” was briefed in the Gujarat High Court. Besides, the discussion also touched upon the gender aspect of the matter.
This cropped up when a lawyer repeatedly addressed the division bench of Chief Justice Sonia Gokani and Justice Sandip Bhatt as ‘your ladyship’ during a hearing. The bench pointed out that he should be acknowledging both judges instead of one.
The senior counsel immediately apologized. After completion of arguments, the lawyer apologized again to Justice Bhatt saying his intention was never to address only one judge and he should have addressed the bench as My Lords: To this, Chief Justice Gokani said, “Many a time in the General Clauses Act, we say he includes she, sometimes she includes he also!“
She cited former Chief Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya on the issue of addressing judges and quoted him as saying, “In the past, because there were no women as judges, ‘her ladyship’ was not something used to address the court to a judge.”
Another senior advocate participated in the discussion and said this was not the correct way to address a woman judge. “Technically, it is ‘My Lady” he said. But the chief justice expressed her opinion on the gender aspect and colonial relics saying, “We believe it should be either sir or madame. It should be sir. That is the right way of doing it rather than ‘My Lord’ or Your Honour. So let it be gender neutral.”
She said that calling judges by traditional addresses was “too feudalistic”. The lawyers jocularly submitted that they have become accustomed to addressing judges as lordships and a shift to sir and madame would be difficult for them.
The chief justice quoted a discussion taking place at the National Judicial Academy, where another former CJ, S J Mukhopadhyay, noted that many lawyers in Gujarat have already switched over to sir. Since addressing judges has been an issue much discussed in the legal fraternity, the Bar Council of India (BCI) had in 2006 passed a resolution saying, “Use of colonial relics like My Lord’ and Your Lordship’ should be discouraged”.