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How do I speak in Court?

Updated: May 12, 2022

How do I address a Judge?


That’s what you call them.

Or Sir, or Miss.

But Judge is best of all.

Almost every day you’ll hear a member of the public refer to them as “Your Honour”, which is an impressive example of the influence of TV on the public mind. Only in America are judges referred to as “Your Honour”.

If you can’t manage ‘Judge’ then a simple ‘Sir’ or ‘Miss’ will usually work just fine.

The byword is respect. You must show it. It is the fundamental, overriding consideration.

It’s a small word but has a powerful resonance. Showing respect gets you a long way in life generally.

Court is no different.

In the higher courts (also known as the Superior Courts) judges were until recently referred to in different ways.

In the High Court and Supreme Court, they were referred to as “My Lord”, or “His Lordship”, surely a throwback to our colonial past.

But in 2006 the law changed, and Judges in the Higher Courts are now known as “Judge”, just like their sister and brothers in the District and Circuit Courts.

People are fascinated by the judiciary. The guys at Vudini can tell us how often specific phrases are searched online.

They also tell us what the most popular search terms are.

Every month the name “Judge Judy” is searched 246,000 times on Google in the United States, by far the most searched member of the judiciary worldwide.

People ask all sorts of questions, like “how much do Judges make?” (6,600 times per month) and “how many Judges in the Supreme Court” (5,400 times).

Paul Carney was a former judge of the High Court in Ireland. He died in 2015. He was a formidable figure, a man of exacting standards.

A Senior Counsel once told me that when he was elevated to “Senior” status (known as “taking silk” in the trade) Carney ambled into the Law Library.

We’re going for a drink to celebrate” Carney muttered unsmilingly, and off they shuffled to a dark little pub close by. Carney preferred to think more than talk.

“We sat at the bar in absolute silence drinking our pints” the Senior said “and when we had finished Carney turned to me and said ‘same again?’ I nodded and we spent the next 2 hours in exactly the same way”. The silence was only broken by Carney occasionally muttering about things he didn’t like.

Tradition was very important to him. Extremely so. Even though it had become acceptable to refer to some members of the higher courts as ‘Judge’ rather than ‘My Lord’ or ‘His Honour’, time stood still in Judge Carney’s court.

If you were a barrister, you were expected to dress like one. In his court that meant the full regalia. No slacking off. Once a barrister sought to mention his case in court and seek an adjournment.

“Somebody is talking” Carney drawled, looking down at his papers.

Undeterred the barrister attempted to address him again.

Carney looked around him this time, as if confused.

“Somebody is talking” he repeated before getting up from his seat and walking into his chambers.

It was only then that the barrister realised his mistake: he had forgotten to wear his wig into court, an offence Carney regarded as a mark of disrespect.

Any unsuspecting Barrister who mistakenly referred to him as ‘Judge’ was met with a withering stare.

Tradition died hard in his court.

“Judge”, Carney would growl “was a character in Wanderley Wagon”. That story always made us laugh.

It might have been 2006 outside, but inside his court it was still 1970.

If you find yourself in court, it’ll very likely be the District Court, and Judges there are just fine being addressed as “Judge”.

Just remember to be respectful.

That’s everything.

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