A little matter of language ‘Me Lord’!

June 3rd, 2009 - 11:19 am ICT by IANS  

By Rana Ajit
New Delhi, June 3 (IANS) Ever wondered why judges in India still continue to be addressed as “Me Lord” instead of the more down-to-earth “Sir”? It may simply be a matter of language that is more pleasing to their ears, say lawyers!

The Supreme Court vacation bench of Justice Markandey Katju and Justice Deepak Verma Monday gave a rare peep into this psyche when it took offence to the language used by senior lawyer Kiran Suri.

In a plea, Suri sought the suspension of a high court ruling against her client saying “stay has to be granted”.

To this, Justice Katju said Suri needs to paraphrase her submission as either “the stay may be granted kindly” or “the stay may please be granted”.

“What type of language do you use in court? Yeh to aap bilkul judge ko harka rahin hain. Yeh to bilkul badtameezi hai (This almost amounts to rebuking the judge. It’s downright ill mannered),” thundered Justice Katju.

As Suri, taken aback by the judges’ outburst, fumbled to paraphrase her plea, Justice Katju went on: “What type of a lawyer are you? Despite 20 to 25 years of experience as a lawyer you do not know how to make a submission in the courts?”

“You have absolutely no sophistication in your language. Aapki bhasha mein to na koi nazakat hai na nafasat. Main urdu mein bol raha hoon. (Your language utterly lacks sophistication and modesty, I am saying this in Urdu),” said Justice Katju, who had been an Allahabad High Court judge earlier for many years and is known for conducting court proceedings even in Hindi.

“Aap to judge ke sir par danda lekar khari hain (You are virtually showing the stick to the judge). You cannot expect a favourable order this way,” said Justice Katju, who eventually gave Suri the relief she was praying for.

But lawyers are not surprised.

“It’s this psyche of the judges, which compels us to address them as ‘Me Lord’ rather than merely ‘Sir’,” a senior apex court lawyer said on condition of anonymity.

Following a lively debate between the bench and the bar a few years ago as to whether lawyers should abandon a colonial form of address like “My Lord”, judges had opined that they were comfortable with being called “Sir”.

As a culmination of this debate, the Bar Council of India had passed a resolution in April 2006, doing away with the practice of addressing judges as ‘My Lord’ or ‘Your Lordship’.

The council had notified a new rule, calling upon lawyers to address judges in the Supreme Court and high courts as ‘Your Honour’ or ‘Hon’ble Court’ or plainly as ‘Sir’.

Yet lawyers continue to address judges as “My Lord”, said the lawyer, adding: “It’s not a case of old habits dying hard, but the question of understanding the judges’ psyche for getting the requisite relief.”

It’s apparently this psyche which explains why the legal fraternity and lawyers use archaic and colonial language in their lawsuits and petitions.

For example, any petition filed in the apex court or high court opens with words like: “The applicant most humbly showeth that…”

And it ends with expressions like: “It is most respectfully prayed that this hon’ble court may kindly be pleased to grant the relief…”

In fact, the day also witnessed Justice Katju taking offence when another counsel repeated his plea. “You don’t have to repeat your arguments. Repeating arguments imply considering the judge a fool,” shot back Justice Katju.

“We have a pair of ears along with a brain. Your arguments keep registering in our brain after entering through ears. You don’t have to repeat them,” remarked Justice Katju.

He went on to say that much before lawyers approach the court and open their mouth to make arguments, judges have already decided the matter.

“You think we do not know of the case. We read your files till midnight. We make mental notes of your case and decide the case much before you make the argument,” remarked Justice Katju.

(Rana Ajit can be contacted at rana.ajit@ians.in)

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