It is Wrong to Address a Female Judge as “My Lord” – Fidelis Oditah QC, SAN

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Professor Fidelis Oditah QC, SAN has said it is wrong to address female judges as “My Lord” in the 21st century.

“I would like to conclude my talk with a footnote on the modes of addressing female judges. All over the country and at all levels of decision-making I hear male and female Judges addressed uniformly as “My Lord”. Whilst this is understandable in the case of a male Judge, it is less obvious in the case of a female Judge. I am told that the explanation for addressing female Judges as “My Lord” is the 19th century philosophy that there are no females at the Bar and Bench or for that matter in the legal profession. The law, it is said, admits of only the male gender. I am not sure that the premise is correct historically, but it is certainly wrong today to address a female Judge as “My Lord”.

In England, ever since female Judges were first appointed in the middle of the 20th century, they were always addressed in court as “My Lady”. My Lady is the appropriate mode of address for a female Judge whether she sits on the High Court, Court of Appeal or Supreme Court Bench.

Unless there is some statutory provision in Nigeria governing modes of address, I would
respectfully suggest that the correct mode of address for a female Judge is My Lady and for a mixed bench consisting of male and female Judges “My Lords and My Ladies” or simply
“The Court”. There are occasions when a female Judge had felt that the correct way to address her is “My Lord”.

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Indeed, a female Judge had told me in open court that she is “My Lord”, and not “My Lady”.
In England if one were writing to a female Judge or addressing her outside court, the correct mode of address for a High Court Judge is “Hon Mrs Justice XYZ”, whether married or unmarried. Since 2014, she may also be styled as “Hon Ms Justice XYZ”. For the Court of
Appeal, it is “Rt Hon Lady Justice XYZ” and for the Supreme Court it is “Lady XYZ”. At the
moment, the UK Supreme Court has two female members – Lady Hale and Lady Black. Lady Hale is President of the UK Supreme Court.

I want to start this conversation so that in due course the profession can choose how to deal with the correct mode of address of Nigerian female Judges!

A NOTE ON MODE OF ADDRESS OF FEMALE JUDGES; excerpt from the paper On the role of the SANs in the administration of justice and nation building – lecture paper by Fidelis Oditah QC, SAN.

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