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€40,000 for judges' wigs and robes

TAXPAYERS are footing the bill for a 53pc rise in judges claims for wigs and gowns, new figures reveal.

They also show that one district court judge received more than three times the average industrial wage in expenses last year -- by claiming €91,909.

More than €40,000 was claimed by the State's judiciary for attire and formal court dress as controversy persists around the refusal of one in five judges to make a contribution towards the voluntary pension levy.

The surge in claims for wigs and gowns comes as plans to introduce a new range of designer robes for judges to modernise judicial dress have been quietly shelved.

Fashion guru Louise Kennedy was commissioned by the Chief Justice, John Murray, to design a range of judges' robes.

Samples of the gowns were unveiled at a judicial training day in Limerick last June, hours before the Revenue Commissioners revealed that only 19 judges had, at that time, opted to take a voluntary pay cut in lieu of the mandatory public sector pension levy. By last month, 111 of a total of 141 serving judges have paid or made arrangements to make voluntary payments.

The Irish Independent has learned that the judges' robes project has been put on hold until public finances improve.

The increase in costs for judicial robes is part of €2.3m claimed by the State's judiciary last year in expenses. One district court judge last year received more than three times the average industrial wage in expenses by claiming €91,909.

Some €40,138 was spent on wigs and gowns and incidental expenses compared to €26,143 in the previous year.

The figures released by the Courts Service through the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act show that the unidentified district court judge received €43,448 in travel expenses and an additional €48,461 in subsistence.

The amount claimed by the district court is almost €40,000 higher than the next highest amount of €50,651 claimed by another district court judge.

The increase in travel expenses from €500,411 to €562,411 claimed by district court judges comes in spite of the Courts Service reducing the number of district court venues from 160 to 126 between 2008 and 2009. The identities of the judges concerned are not being revealed by the Courts Service due to security reasons.

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The Courts Service's FOI Unit state that "in some instances, expenses paid to judges include arrears from previous years".

The FOI unit also explains the disparity in the amounts claimed by some circuit and district court judges.

The Unit states: "There were 55 circuit court venues and 126 district court venues outside of Dublin.

"Judges based in Dublin have little travel and subsistence expenses. Judges assigned to larger geographical areas have substantial travel between court venues within the area."

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