Sunday 22 October 2017

Ten judges to retire before 70pc pension super tax kicks in

Warning exodus may cause backlog of cases in the courts

Judge Nicholas Kearns
Judge Nicholas Kearns

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

UP to 10 senior judges are planning to retire early ahead of new reductions on the pensions of high earners.

The pensions exodus could see the departure of some of the country's most high-profile judges.

Several judges have already warned litigants seeking court dates next year that their cases could be affected by a strain on resources -- as more senior members of the judiciary consider an early exit.

The Irish Independent has learned that High Court president Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns has now received formal notification of the retirement of two High Court judges.

But other big names who have not yet reached full retirement age are considering early retirement ahead of a pensions "grace period" which ends in August 2014.

Last night the Association of Judges of Ireland (AJI), which represents more than 90pc of the judiciary, refused to be drawn on the departures.

"We don't wish to comment at this time," said High Court judge Mr Justice John Edwards, secretary of the AJI.

From January 1 next, judges and other senior civil and public servants will have a "super tax" of up to 70pc imposed on any portion of their pensions above €115,000 per annum. A '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.

Judges previously complained that they would be hit hard by changes to pension laws, as they built up lucrative private pots from their days as practising lawyers as well as their fast-track judicial pensions. But last October's Finance Bill provides for an individual who has pension rights on January 1, 2014 in excess of the new lower SFT limit of €2m, to claim a Personal Fund Threshold (PFT) from Revenue in order to protect the value of those rights on that date.

And senior public servants are still being allowed to build up large pensions under complicated changes in the Budget.

Senior civil and public servants, like judges and county managers, who retire in the next five years will able to retire on pensions of up to €115,000 a year.

Ordinary workers will have a limit of half of this imposed on the size of pensions they can get to qualify under new tax rules. They will have to pay a 'super tax' of 70pc for pensions over €60,000.

Meanwhile, yesterday marked the final sitting of High Court judge Mr Justice John Cooke, a former judge of the European Court of First Instance in Luxembourg. Judge Cooke has reached full retirement age.

Judge Kearns said Judge Cooke's career was "illustrious" and described him as "one of the foremost Irish jurists of his time".

"From his earliest days at the Bar, John Cooke exhibited outstanding ability in the area of commercial work and was a formidable advocate," said Judge Kearns.

He added that Judge Cooke was held "in the highest esteem" at European level.

Judge Cooke returned to the High Court in 2008 after serving for 12 years in Europe.

"With typical modesty, he then elected to work in the area of Asylum Law, bringing to that difficult area of work his organisational and analytical brilliance," said Judge Kearns.

Irish Independent

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