Time to do away with the lords and ladies in court
Chief Justice Bryan Sykes

Dear Editor,

Bob Dylan, the famous songwriter, said it best in his hit from the 60s and it is even more apt now, "The times they are a changing." His hit alludes to the winds of change that are now carrying with them more calls and greater support for us in Jamaica to discard remnants of colonialism — whether by a change to a republic, to replace the Privy Council with the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), or to dispense with other colonial traditions inconsistent with our Independence.

One of the ways our judiciary aligned itself with this trend of positive change was to dispense with the traditional wigs and robes for Supreme Court and Court of Appeal judges, which were rooted in our colonial past. Traditional robes were, instead, replaced with robes of Jamaican design, appropriately and proudly bearing the Jamaican colours. By making these changes the judiciary recognised that symbols matter, they send messages of and for a nation, sometimes messages of our identity and hard-earned Independence.

So, now, at this inflection point of change, and along similar lines, it is perhaps the appropriate time to discard another colonial judicial tradition, namely the mode used in court to address our Supreme Court and Court of Appeal judges. These judges are presently referred to as My Lord, My Lady, Your Lordship, and Your Ladyship. These modes of address, on the face of it, harken loudly to a colonial mode of addressing lords in a feudal system that was also rooted in the past of our colonisers; that feudal system was alien to us then and now. Since we have no history of feudalism, the very reference to a man, judge, or otherwise as My Lord or Your Lordship is tantamount or can be seen as tantamount to a deification of that person. Our Supreme Court and Court of Appeal judges merit modes of address expressing prestige and respect for them, but not deification or language conspicuously evocative of a colonial past.

Another reason to target this mode of address for change is that legislative intervention or constitutional amendment is unnecessary to effect the change. The disposal of wigs and change in robes did not require this.

Other Commonwealth Caribbean jurisdictions have led the way in making these types of changes. Indeed, on February 14, 2022, the then acting Chief Justice of Belize Michelle Arana (soon to be a judge of the Court of Appeal of Belize) issued a relevant practice direction, applicable to counsel and parties in court. That practice direction stated, "Counsel and parties are to refrain from addressing justices as My Lady, My Lord, Your Ladyship, or Your Lordship." That practice direction also stated that "justices of the Supreme Court are to be referred to as Chief Justice, Justice, Madam Justice, Mister Justice, or Your Honour". My understanding is that Supreme Court and Court of Appeal Judges in Guyana are also referred to as Your Honour.

Another pioneer of change along the line proposed is the CCJ, the top tier court of several Caribbean jurisdictions. Apparently also motivated to dispense with relics of a colonial past, their judges are addressed in court as Your Honour.

Of course, any change of mode of address should invoke the deep respect our Supreme Court and Court of Appeal judges deserve. Any new mode of address should be a matter for discussion.

It is hoped that this letter will trigger a discussion about effecting the change and a new, appropriate mode of address. Our present Chief Justice Bryan Sykes has displayed a propensity for bold, positive change, and let us all hope that this proposed change is one that he, the judiciary, and the Bar will consider for the reasons set out. Archaic colonial modes of address in our courts should be treated as relics of the past – that's where they belong.

Norman Davis


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