The anticipated "exodus" of judges into retirement must be planned to ensure there is no disruption to cases coming before the courts, Fianna Fail justice spokesman Niall Collins said last night.
High Court judge Mr Justice Peter Kelly, who is head of the fast-track Commercial Court, has signalled his intention to retire early.
Mr Justice Kelly is one of the pivotal figures from the fallout of the economic crisis. His high-profile cases included litigation between businessman Sean Quinn, his family and the former Anglo Irish Bank. But Mr Justice Kelly's early departure comes amid fears other senior judges will retire early ahead of new reductions in the pensions of high earners.
Up to 10 senior judges are planning to retire early ahead of new reductions on the pensions of high earners. Mr Collins said the Coalition must not allow the retirements to go through in an unplanned fashion. "The effective running of the courts is going to be challenged if the anticipated level of retirements happens.
"The Government needs to ensure that the exodus is planned to allow for the proper continuance of cases," he said.
Mr Collins said he was not calling for the pension changes to be eased for members of the judiciary.
But he said the Government must avoid a scenario similar to the one that arose when the director of corporate enforcement retired.
Paul Appleby had to delay his retirement to allow a smooth transition for his replacement and his continued leadership of the Anglo investigation.
Mr Collins said Justice Minister Alan Shatter has to provide reassurances that the Government is supervising the transition and the departure of judges. "We need to hear from the minister and the Government about how they intend to handle this situation," he said.
ANALYSIS PAGE 26
The pensions exodus could see the departure of some of the country's most high-profile judges. From January 1 next, judges and senior civil/public servants will have a "super tax" of up to 70 per cent imposed on any portion of their pensions above €115,000 per annum. A so-called 'grace period' has been introduced for public servants retiring on or before August 31, 2014.
Judges are among a group of high earners who hold both private and public sector pensions. But they face potential six-figure tax bills when they retire because of a reduction on the tax relief on their pension funds.
Tax relief on pension funds worth above €2.3m was reduced three years ago – the previous standard fund threshold (SFT) was a generous €5.14m.
The absolute value of the SFT is being reduced again, with effect from January 1, 2014, from €2.3m to €2m.
Last night, the Department of Justice said four High Court judges due to retire in 2014 on age grounds. "The Department has not received notification of any other retirements from the High Court in 2014," the Department said.