Modes Of Address Introduction

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Modes of address

This introduction is kindly reproduced from Chapter 13 of the 15th edition of Advocacy, The City Law School Bar Manual, edited by Robert McPeake and published by OUP. The series editor is Julie Browne. See full credits at the bottom of this piece.


Whenever you appear as an advocate you should always know the correct way to address the person or persons who are in court to decide the issues of law and fact. Using an incorrect title is a possible sign of disrespect or inexperience. Most judges or magistrates will not object strongly to being addressed by an incorrect title, so you may not realise until later, if then, that you had risked upsetting the court.

The Advocacy bible!

Of course some judges do mind and will soon let you know if they think that your choice of title is inappropriate. You may find that their chosen response is to say, rather obscurely, 'I can't hear you Miss Jones'. Your response may be simply to talk louder, assuming that you are either speaking too quietly or that the poor old judge is a little deaf! What they mean by this expression is not that they can't hear you but that they won't - you sometimes get a similar response if a judge thinks you are dressed inappropriately for their court.

With luck, your opponent will realise what the judge's objection is about and help you out, if possible.

If you are unlucky the judge won't tell you about your gaffe, but will simply sit there and smoulder! Your chances of persuading the judge to decide in your client's favour may be diminishing with every fresh example of the slight. As a novice advocate, you will get much of your early experience in the magistrates' court or County Court, so you will become used to addressing the court as 'Sir/Madam' or 'Your Honour'. Problems may then arise if you are sent to the High Court, and confusion may increase if your appearance there is before a circuit judge, sitting as a judge of the High Court!

A few years ago, a very junior barrister appeared at the Old Bailey in a hearing with several more experienced barristers. He was the last one to address the judge and his task should have been a simple one; sadly, although most of what he said made sense, he addressed the judge several times as 'Sir'. This was a considerable slight since any Crown Court judge is entitled to be called 'Your Honour'and, even worse, anyone sitting as a judge in the Old Bailey is entitled to be addressed as 'My Lord/Lady'. The judge said nothing but sat there and glowered fiercely at the young barrister. The barrister eventually realised that something was up but could not think what, until he noticed that counsel sitting by his side was muttering something.

The young barrister's first reaction was to think 'How rude'; his second was to listen to what his colleague was muttering. It was 'My Lord - my Lord' Realising his error, the barrister apologised at once, the judge recovered his previous complexion and everything went as planned thereafter.

In order to avoid similar embarrassment yourself, read the rest of this with care.

Using the correct form of address


The way in which you address the court may vary depending on whether you are using the vocative case (i.e, calling upon the judge as if by name) or the accusative case (i.e, in place of 'you')

(a) Where the correct from of address is 'Sir/Madam', 'Master' or 'Your Honour' there is no real distinction between addressing the court in the vocative or accusative cases.


Vocative -

'Sir/Madam, the defendant is content for their matter to be dealt with today.'

'In my submission, Master, the claimant has failed to show a total failure of consideration.'

'Your Honour, there are three affidavits in this case.'

Accusative -

'May it please you, Sir/Madam.'

'If you look at the document marked "A", Master, you will see that...'

'Does Your Honour have a copy of the defendant's antecedents? (Note you should avoiding calling a circuit judge 'you'.)

(b) There is, however, a marked difference between the appropriate use of 'My Lord/My Lady' whenever you are addressing the judge in the vocative sense. Use 'Your Lordship/Your Ladyship'in place of 'you'.


Vocative -

'My Lord, the third defendant has taken no part in these proceedings.' 'I am obliged, my Lady'

Accusative -

'Your Lordship may be minded to...'

'I am happy to tell Your Lordship that the parties have reached terms in this matter.'

'Does Your Lordship have the claimant's affidavit sworn on the 13th March 2010?'

(c) It is perfectly acceptable to combine both forms of address in one sentence.


'My Lady, if I may deal with the points which Your Ladyship has raised...'

(d) Use 'His Lordship/Her Ladyship' and 'His Honour/Her Honour' in place of 'him' or 'her', ie, when referring to the judge in the third person.


'Describe the layout of the room to His Lordship.'

'Tell Her Honour what you saw when you entered the room.'

Hybrid situations

The figure below shows the way to address a person who is sitting as a deputy Circuit or High Court judge. Some confusion, however arises when a Circuit judge is sitting also as a deputy judge of the High Court in order to hear a mixed list, ie, some County Court and some High Court cases. In these circumstances, it is the case itself which detemines the mode of address. If your case is a County Court matter, address the judge as 'Your Honour'. If the case is a High Court matter address the judge as 'My Lord/My Lady'. Note, however, that if a High Court judge hears a case which is listed as a County Court matter, he or she must still be addressed as 'My Lord/My Lady' and not demoted!

Another hybrid situation occurs when it is necessary to see the judge in his or her private room, eg, to seek an indication regarding sentence (for the limited circumstances in which this might be appropriate see R v Turner [1970]2 QB 321). In this situation, address the judge as 'Judge'.

Modes of address:

Court Who addressing? Mode of address
Youth Court and Magistrates' Court District Judge (formerly Stipendiary Magistrate) 'Sir/Madam'
Youth Court and Magistrates' Court Chairman of Lay Bench 'Sir/Madam'
Youth Court and Magistrates' Court Members of Lay Bench 'Your colleagues'
Tribunals Chairman 'Sir/Madam'
Tribunals Other Members 'Your colleagues'
County Court Circuit Judge 'Your Honour'
County Court Recorder or any person sitting as a deputy Circuit Judge 'Your Honour'
County Court District Judge 'Sir/Madam'
Crown Court High Court Judge 'My Lord/My Lady'
Crown Court Circuit Judge 'Your Honour'
Crown Court Recorder or any person sitting as a deputy Circuit Judge 'Your Honour'
Crown Court Exceptions [see PD [1982] 1 All ER 320]

Central Criminal Court - any person sitting as a judge

'My Lord/My Lady
Crown Court Recorder of Manchester/Liverpool 'My Lord/My Lady'
High Court Judge 'My Lord/My Lady'
High Court Any Circuit Judge sitting as a Judge of the High Court 'My Lord/My Lady'
High Court District Judge 'Sir/Madam'
High Court Master 'Master'
Court of Appeal Lord Justice 'My Lord/My Lady'
Supreme Court Supreme Court Justice 'My Lord/My Lady'

Robert McPeake(ed), Advocacy (15th edn OUP, Oxford 2010) Buy from Wildy's! Series editor is Julie Browne.

Authors of the Advocacy Bar Manual include: Evan Ashfield, Susan Blake, Colin Bobb-Semple, Elizabeth Cassie, Paul Corben, David Emmet, Judy Harris, Frances Hastings, Stuart Lindsay, Debbie Lithman, Robert McPeake, Snigdha Nag, Conor Quigley, Suzanne Reece, Charles Scott, Stuart Sime and Margot Taylor.