Tuesday 30 May 2017

Judicial split as judges on lower pay resist calls to take wage cut

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

LOWER-PAID judges in the District and Circuit Courts are resisting peer pressure from their superiors to take a pay cut.

The Irish Independent has learned that a small cohort of junior judges who have not signed up for a voluntary pay cut in lieu of the public sector pension levy oppose the pay cut and feel they earn significantly less than their superior court colleagues.

The judicial split was revealed last month at a conference for senior judges.

The judges were told that all High Court and Supreme Court judges had made voluntary arrangements with the Revenue Commissioners. This is despite the fact that all details of Revenue contributions are confidential.

Last year the judiciary was embroiled in controversy when it emerged that only 19 out of the country's 148 judges had opted for a voluntary pay cut in lieu of a mandatory pension levy. The levy was imposed on all public sector workers by the Government.

This later rose to 111 judges and updated figures are due to be released by the Revenue at the end of the year.

The Government's decision to omit the judiciary from the levy was based on legal advice from Attorney General Paul Gallagher who deemed the imposition of a levy to be unconstitutional.

Under the Constitution, the pay of a judge can not be reduced during his term of office, a ban designed to safeguard the independence of the judiciary by ensuring judges are not subject to political pressures.

Controversy

In the wake of the controversy -- which prompted Chief Justice John L Murray to issue a press release to counter allegations that the judiciary was elitist and lacked moral authority -- most but not all judges made arrangements with the Revenue.

But it has emerged that it is a small band of District and Circuit Court judges who still refuse to sign up.

Irish judges are among the highest paid in Europe, but we have the lowest number of judges per head of population.

The split in judicial ranks comes as the Bar Council, the ruling body for barristers, warns lawyers to issue fee notes for outstanding monies owed to them by government agencies such as the Chief State Solicitor's Office and the Legal Aid Board.

The circular, from the General Council of the Bar Council, advises barristers to recover all outstanding fees from the Government and comes as the legal profession fears that their income will come under attack next year as part of the EU/IMF four-year programme.

Under the programme, the Government has agreed to establish an independent regulator and implement the recommendations of the Legal Costs Working Group and any outstanding Competition Authority recommendations as they relate to the legal profession.

Strict time limits have been set on the reforms.

Irish Independent

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