NEW judges will have to serve 20 years before they can draw a full pension and pay a 13pc contribution towards their pension, instead of the current 4pc that is paid by serving judges.
The new pension arrangements for future judges have caused alarm amongst serving members of the judiciary.
Judges fear that their status is being downgraded and the judiciary as an institution weakened by a series of cuts to their pay and pensions, as well as the appointment of civil servants as specialist judges to deal with the anticipated wave of personal insolvencies.
The Irish Independent has learned that several high-profile Senior Counsel and solicitors who were in the process of applying for senior judicial posts have abandoned their applications amid fears that the new terms will deter the country's most experienced lawyers from the bench.
The new single pension scheme for the judiciary came into effect on January 1 last, but the issue only came to light in recent weeks.
This is because the judiciary, which was consulted by the Government on a cost-neutral early-retirement scheme for judges wishing to retire at 65 years of age – instead of 72 or 70 – was not formally consulted on the new pension deals for future judges.
In addition, the explanatory memorandum accompanying the Public Service Pensions (Single Scheme and other Provisions) Act 2012 did not outline that judges of the Circuit, High and Supreme Courts must now serve for 20 years before drawing a full pension.
Serving judges, apart from those in District Courts, are entitled to a full pension after 15 years' service – a much shorter length of service than applies to most of the public service – because of the years that lawyers spend in private practice before being appointed to the bench.
Judges, who formed a representative body in the wake of the controversial referendum to reduce their pay, are bracing themselves for a fresh round of pay and pension cuts as part of the revised Croke Park deal.
The Association of Judges of Ireland (AJI) is not formally part of the Croke Park talks as the judiciary is the third branch of Government and judges are not public sector workers.
But Justice Minister Alan Shatter (pictured) wants to reform judges' working hours, vacations and management of the courts – the exclusive preserve of the judiciary – in line with the terms to be imposed on public sector workers.
Last night, the Department of Finance confirmed that it was expected that retired judges would be affected by the planned pay and pension cuts under Croke Park II.
Under the proposed deal, retired public service staff who receive pensions in excess of €32,500 are to face further cuts.
At the time of going to press, the AJI had not responded to queries.
However, the executive of the Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants has recommended that its members reject the proposed new agreement. The Bar Council, the representative body for barristers, has issued a circular to its members outlining the new provision.
Senior lawyers typically apply for the bench between the ages of 50 and 55, accepting reduced pay in exchange for security of tenure and fast-track pensions.
But the new 20-year requirement means that in future judges who wish to draw a full pension will have to apply at a much earlier age.