By the Grace of God, I was called to the Bar in 1986 and harsh economic conditions compelled me to plunge into private legal practice like how a person jumps into a swimming pool either to swim or sink.
Thanks to God; I started the practice mostly in the district courts – always referring to the presiding magistrate as “Your Worship”.
I became so used to saying “Your Worship” that when I first appeared before the Circuit Court, the judge was Mrs. Agyemang Bempah, and instead of saying “Your Honour” by reflex, I said “Your Worship” and my colleague lawyers started giggling.
Her Honour relaxed me by saying amidst laughter: “Counsel, don't worry. I have been worshipped before…”
In due course, I progressed to the High Court where the presiding judge is referred to as “My Lord”. Pretty soon I became so used to saying “My Lord” that for the avoidance of problem I referred to every judge – Magistrate and High Court alike as “My Lord”.
After more than twenty years of practice, a certain chief justice circulated a memorandum to all the courts throughout Ghana that female superior court judges should be referred to as “My Lady” instead of “My Lord”.
The greater majority of all female superior court judges are all married women and they always very proudly show their ringed left hand for all to see, so I always find it most embarrassing indeed to hear oftentimes an obviously young junior male lawyer referring to a senior High Court judge as “My Lady”. (At times, I quietly tell myself: who the hell is this small boy referring to My Lord as “My Lady”? Don't you know she can even be your mother?”)
At times, some of them too look so attractive – slim, cute, fresh – that when a prominent senior lawyer refers to her as “My Lady” the obvious insinuations become so glaring…
For the avoidance of problem, I have pointedly insisted on never using “My Lady” to refer to any female justice. The other day, not too long ago, I entered some High Court to see an extremely attractive female justice presiding looking almost like a photocopy of my father in-law's daughter. I forgot myself and said “My Lady” then I remembered and told myself “Captain this is not Gloria” whereupon I said in a military parade voice “My Lord …” she raised her head and smiled, and reader, it was like the morning sunshine bursting through the clouds …
Interesting enough, the current chief justice is also a Lady and apparently she is not bothered by the discomfiture of practising male chauvinist lawyers in having to refer to female justices as “My Lady”.
The other day in open court, I raised this issue before one of the female justices of the High Court and she said flatly that she has no problem being referred to as “My Lord” instead of “My Lady”, jokingly adding that at times when some “bearded” lawyers refer to her as “My Lady” she gets a little upset !!! According to her, from childhood, she has always disliked men with beards!!!
For the avoidance of these idiosyncrasies and possible embarrassments, I will urge a return to the old order where every female Superior Court judge is simply referred to as “My Lord”. I will vote for that view.
By Nkrabeah Effah-Dartey
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