The dummies’ guide to addressing judicial officers
What should you call a judge in Australia - Your Honour, Magistrate or Judge? It depends on what kind of judge you're talking to.
If you’re dreaming of a glorious legal future, the last thing you want to do is stride confidently to the bar table in the Supreme Court and incorrectly address the judge.
Never fear, we’ve broken down the basics – you’ll be rocking that legal networking night in no time at all!
Superior court judges
In Australia the superior courts are:
- The High Court (HCA)
- The Federal Court (FCA)
- The Family Court (FamCA)
- The Supreme Court (NSWSC)
- The Court of Appeal (NSWCA)
- The Court of Criminal Appeal (NSWCCA)
- The Industrial Relations Commission of NSW and (IRC)
- The Land & Environment Court (NSWLEC)
Judges in these courts should be addressed as “Your Honour,” unless they are the Chief Justice of a particular court in which case they should (surprise) be addressed as “Chief Justice.”
If you’re introducing a superior court judge to somebody outside of court (how fancy and well-connected of you!) you should introduce them as “Justice …” and you should refer to them in conversation as “judge.”
In written form they should be referred to as “The Honourable Justice …” and any correspondence should be addressed to Dear Judge – unless they’re a Chief Justice in which case it would be Dear Chief Justice.
When identifying judges with respect to their judgments in academic writing, you can abbreviate by using their surname followed by either a J or CJ as appropriate. For example, in the High Court you would refer to Chief Justice Susan Kiefel as Kiefel CJ and Justice Stephen Gageler as Gageler J.
The President of the Court of Appeal and the President of the Industrial Relations Commission of NSW should be addressed as “President” both in conversation and in writing. However, you will likely be forgiven without much fuss if you forget and instead call them “Judge.”
Federal Court Magistrates (FC)
Federal Court Magistrates should never be called Your Worship, but may be called “Your Honour” or “Federal Magistrate.” Outside of court you may refer to them as “Mr,” “Ms,” “Sir” or “Madam.”
District Court Judges (DC)
District Court Judges should be referred to as “His/Her Honour Judge …” while in court, and would be introduced as “Judge…” outside of court.
Local Court Magistrates
Local Court Magistrates should be addressed as “Your Honour” in court, as “Magistrate …” outside of court.
For the period that they are acting an Acting Judge should be addressed as “Judge.” An acting judge of a Superior Court should be referred to as “The Honourable Acting Justice …” in writing. An acting judge of the District Court would be referred to in writing as “His/Her Honour Acting Judge …”
Once they are retired, a judge no longer has any entitlement to be referred to as a judge or justice, so any formal correspondence or publication should refer to them as “The Honourable …” along with any post nominal such as QC or SC.
But let’s be honest, if you’re talking to a retired judge, they certainly aren’t going to object to being called Judge or Justice.
Abbreviations: The Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG
Judicial officers (and other distinguished people in the legal industry) may also have other titles which are signified by letters after their names (post-nominal letters). Here’s a handy guide to what some common ones mean:
AC – Companion of the Order of Australia
AO – Officer of the Order of Australia
AM – Member of the Order of Australia
AK/AD – Knight/Dame of the Order of Australia
OAM – Medal of the Order of Australia
OM – Member of the Order of Merit
GCMG – Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George
KCMG/DCMG – Knight/Dame Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George
CMG – Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George
SC – Senior Counsel
QC – Queen’s Counsel
GBE – Knight/Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire
KBE/DBE – Knight/Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire
CBE – Commander of the Order of the British Empire
OBE – Officer of the Order of the British Empire
MBE – Member of the Order of the British Empire
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Story by: Rebecca Brediceanu