Not of books, but of dignitaries.


Stephen Waddams observes in Introduction to the Study of Law (my edition is 1992) that it is not proper to refer to a judge as Your Honour (or My Lord/Lady, where that is still used) outside the courtroom. He advocates just plain Mr Wagner or Ms Karakatsanis, or failing that the old-fashioned Judge (without the person’s surname) when you encounter one in a social setting. Most Canadian lawyers will probably say Justice So-and-so at a cocktail party, if they are not on first-name terms, and this also has the sanction of historical usage.

As pointed out previously, it’s Madam [emphasis on the first syllable] Justice not Madame Justice. In England, it’s Mrs (or less commonly Ms, occasionally Miss) Justice for female High Court judges. (Canada did a better job of capturing the dignity of the bench with Madam…) In the Court of Appeal for England and Wales, it is Lord or Lady Justice Who’s-it; in the UK Supreme Court, Lord or Baroness [or Lady, depending on preference] What’s-it.

Retired judges in Canada and England are often still referred to by their former judicial titles, as a courtesy, but it is not wrong to call the former Justice Binnie just plain Mr Binnie now that he is back in private practice. Beverley McLachlin, though retired from the Supreme Court of Canada, is still Justice McLachlin (although not Chief Justice) because she now sits on Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal. And an envelope addressed to her would not have Ms Beverley McLachlin on it; she is The Rt Hon Beverley McLachlin – and in writing Mr Binnie gets The Hon Ian Binnie.

Government officials

Ministers of the Crown are now referred to as Minister Freeland or Minister Elliott— and, mutatis mutandis, so are mayors, police chiefs, dog-catchers, what have you. This is an unfortunate American habit. In the good old days in our loved Dominion, the Minister of Whatever was simply called Minister to her or his face and referred to as Mr, Ms etc., as the case might be. Somewhere along the way (and I think it was in the 1980s), we began imitating the US convention of calling officials in the executive branch Secretary Baker and Assistant Under-Secretary Butcher.

Another weird thing (among many) that Americans do is to keep calling former office-holders by the title they used to hold. In Canada and the UK, a former prime minister goes back to private life and relinquishes all the trappings of office, including the title (although, in the UK, he or she might get a peerage or knighthood, like Baroness Thatcher or Sir John Major). It’s Ms Kim Campbell and Mr David Cameron (although both are, more formally, The Rt Hon). Whereas south of the 49th parallel, President Carter, President Bush (times two), President Clinton and President Obama are still kicking around. As well as that orange person.

And while we’re on the subject, Amurricans still say Mr President, Ms Secretary, etc. We dropped the M-preamble long ago: it’s just How do you do, Prime Minister? when you meet our head of government, not Mr or Ms Prime Minister.


The person represented on the coinage isn’t Queen Elizabeth: that was her mother, Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother. It is simply The Queen or Her Majesty on your quarter.

Prince Charles is what we call the heir to the Canadian throne colloquially, but he is properly The Prince of Wales (in Scotland, though, he is The Duke of Rothesay and Lord of the Isles). His first wife was never (correctly) Princess Diana; she started her married life as The Princess of Wales and, after her divorce, became Diana, Princess of Wales. Wife number two is not Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, which would imply she is a widow or a divorcée. Just The Duchess of Cornwall; same deal with her step-daughters-in-law.

If their husbands had not been created royal dukes, Kate and Meghan would be respectively Princess William of Wales and Princess Harry of Wales. If that sounds odd, think of the old-fashioned way of addressing a married lady: Mrs John Smith (and of Princess Michael of Kent, whose first name is Marie-Christine). In any event, never Princess (or Duchess) Kate or Princess (or Duchess) Meghan, even though they are both princesses (and duchesses) by virtue of marriage.

Note, by the way, those official upper-case Ts in the titles of senior royals. And you should stick HRH before the title of a prince or princess, HM for the Boss.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


  1. Contrary to what you’ve posted here, I’m pretty sure that “The Hon Ian Binnie” is not correct. Among justices, only former Chief Justices retain an honorific once they leave office.

  2. I think you may be right about this – thanks!

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