With the recognition of rights, humanity acknowledged their protection. And to protect them, society established the courts system. In the courts, most noble, honorable, honest, upright, intelligent and intellectual persons were and are placed to adjudge and determine the cases. Their nobility demanded respect and the courtroom required a decorum. So, the civilized society started calling them in dignified and refined words.
Notwithstanding the religious court system, by birth, in Pakistan, the common law court system is being followed. However, at the district level, the judges are called with the title of Sir, Madam, Your Honor, while in the higher courts My Lord and My Lady are used. There are a lot of objections, both social and religious, with the word My Lord.
Foremost, it is pertinent to mention here that language is a way to convey a message. It is a method of human communication which consists of words either spoken or written, and the words are elements of communication which are used to form a sentence. In courts, lawyers are the one who have this duty to present and convey their client’s case.
In Malik Allah Yar Khan’s case, the petitioner also referred to the Presidential Order No.15 of 1980 wherein it was directed to discontinue the use of the expression of My Lord and Your Lordship in relation to the Judges of the Superior Courts of Pakistan.
Before highlighting the objection to the word My Lord, it is appropriate to look at the etymology of the word lord. The word lord, as a noun, is derived from an old English word hlaford which means master of a household, ruler, feudal lord. In old English, hlaford is a contraction of an earlier word hlafweard, which literally means one who guards the loaves. Then the word landlord started to be used in the 13th century. For peers of England, it started to be used around the 14th century. However, as a verb, the word lord got famous in the 13th century in meaning of a ruler.
Furthermore, different titles are used in different countries. In America Judges of the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court are addressed as My Lord, or My Lady, or Your Lordship, or Your Ladyship and the justices of the peace are referred as Your Honour. In England a High Court judge is referred to as My Lord or Your Lordship if male, or as My Lady or Your Ladyship if female. In France, the French word of Your Honor, Votre Honneur, is applied. In Italian you address a judge as Signor Presidente della Corte which means Mr. President of the Court.
In Spain judges are addressed as Su señoría, which translates to your honor. While in Germany male judges are formally addressed as Herr Vorsitzender and female judges are referred to as Frau Vorsitzende, which translates as Mister Chairman or Madam Chairwoman. And in India and Pakistan, for higher courts’ judges My Lord, Your Lordship are used. In Saudi Arabia, the word Qazi is used.
The religious objection—not in stricto sensu religious—is based on the confusion not on the intent of the word My Lord. It is true that an educated person understands it does not refer to God. But here the issue is for the uneducated ones. The literacy rate is around 58 percent, among them many litigants (not well versed in the understanding of the word My Lord) who often visit the higher courts get confused by listening to these words. While in school, they only learn about one true Lord; here I am referring to the Lord of the worlds. Although in Islam, there is nothing wrong unless it is done with the wrong intention, yet what justice and morality demand here is simply the eradication of this confusion, which laymen often face.
The socio-objection outweigh the religion-based objection. It is based on the ideology and feelings of independence. In India, in 2014 a veteran lawyer, 75-year-old advocate Shiv Sagar Tiwari filed a public interest litigation in Indian Supreme Court and sought the apex court’s direction to strictly prohibit the use of my lord and your lordship in courts alleging that “it is against the dignity of the country.” “Using the words my lord and your lordship which are symbols of slavery should be strictly prohibited to be used in the courts throughout India as it is against the dignity of the country,” he argued.
However, the Supreme Court did not agree and rejected his plea by holding that “When did we say it is compulsory. You can only call us in a dignified manner.” “To address the court what do we want. Only a respectable way of addressing. You call (judges) sir, it is accepted. You call it your honor, it is accepted. You call lordship it is accepted. These are some of the appropriate way of expression which are accepted.”
In Pakistan, in 2012, similar failed attempt was made in the honorable Lahore High Court, Lahore. In Malik Allah Yar Khan’s case, the petitioner also referred to the Presidential Order No.15 of 1980 wherein it was directed to discontinue the use of the expression of My Lord and Your Lordship in relation to the Judges of the Superior Courts of Pakistan. But the court after referring numerous dictionaries—while dismissing the petition—held that “none of the books of literature or legal background even hinted that the honorable Judges who are addressed with the title of “My Lord” or “Your Lordship” are imagined or thought to be involving the touch of Godly attributes.
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The dictionaries of English language also certainly project that when the term lord is to be used for the God or Jesus Christ in the linguistic sphere it is to be preceded by stressing article “The”.” “The term “Lord” in its ordinary meanings has reference to the qualities of ability, nobility and learning of the persons who are appointed as honorable Judges of the Superior Courts”.
To conclude, at a glance, this is true what both courts held, yet the objection is not because of the etymology and dictionary meanings. The objection is because, after more than 70 years, the sense of slavery and being slaved is still haunting us. Although the highly educated ones consider this redundant, yet among laymen, it is the most common objection to be heard that “we do not have anything of our own; when will we do?” And these feelings must be taken seriously, that our citizens still consider that the courts’ system is not of their own, it is borrowed one or in their words, “we are still a slave”. As above mentioned, different countries use different titles as per their customs and traditions, then why should not we? Last but not least, if by the stoppage of the usage of the word My Lord, we can gain the reverence of our citizens, then we should certainly do it.
Hafiz Muhammad Azeem is an advocate of the High Court and teaches law. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.