They earn €185,000 a year but judges also get thousands for their wigs, books, sitting rooms and parking
Published 16/11/2010 | 05:00
THEY earn average salaries of up to €185,000 per year, they escaped the public sector pay cuts -- and they can also get their wigs and parking paid for.
Then there is the "sitting room allowance", the "removal allowance" and the travel and accommodation allowances our judges are entitled to.
It is all part of an expenses system for the country's 148 judges that has developed over decades and is so old-fashioned in parts that even the Courts Service admits it is "cumbersome" and in need of streamlining.
The details of the expenses available to judges were provided by the Courts Service to the Dail's Public Accounts Committee, whose members have questioned some of the expenses being paid.
Judges are entitled to an annual "library allowance" of up to €9,000 to cover the provision of a study and suitable library facilities so that they can work at home to deal with urgent applications or the formulation of judgments.
Those in the Circuit Court get more than €2,700 and District Court judges get €1,365.
There is a "sitting room allowance" of €36.69 paid to District and Circuit Court judges to allow them to work in their rooms after court.
The Courts Service has said this goes back to the days when judges travelled around the country and needed to "have their dinner separately" in a hotel room while they carried out court work. The judge has to provide a copy of a hotel receipt to claim this allowance.
There is no need for judges to provide parking tickets as receipts to claim the daily "garage allowance" of €4.37, which is designed to cover the cost of finding secure parking while they are in court.
Judges can also claim expenses for their "court attire" if they provide receipts. They can claim €2,195 on a once-off basis for a wig, €745 every two years for a frock coat and €575 every two years for a frock coat without tails. Last year, the country's judges submitted expense claims for €40,138 worth of court clothing. But that was just a fraction of the overall judicial expenses bill, which amounted to €2.3m.
Last year, the State also paid €27.5m in wages to judges -- an average of €185,000 each. The judiciary escaped the cut imposed on the salaries of public servants in last December's Budget and the previous public sector pension levy. This is because there is a provision in the Constitution that prohibits their salaries from being lowered -- designed to protect them from political interference.
There was a storm of protest when it emerged that just 19 judges had signed up for a voluntary scheme to contribute towards the pension levy. But this later rose to 111 judges and updated figures are due to be released by Revenue at the end of the year.
Fine Gael Wexford TD Michael D'Arcy, a member of the Public Accounts Committee, said he believed that expenses for all public servants -- including judges -- had to be cut.
"I'm talking about a 50pc reduction, including public representatives. If that means 'bye bye, wigs', so be it," he said.
The Department of Finance said it could not comment on budgetary matters, when asked if the expenses of judges were being reviewed.
Judges in the Supreme Court, High Court and Circuit Court also have the benefit of tipstaffs, who provide the judge with information about court sittings and escort them to and from the courtrooms.
Although the Bord Snip Nua group recommended that the positions of the 83 tipstaffs be abolished to save €2.5m in wages annually, they have survived so far.