SENIOR judges have been offered a sweetener deal that will allow them to retire early on pensions untouched by pay cuts.
The is designed to avert the possible resignations of up more than 30 judges from the bench, in the wake of the first cuts to their salaries in the history of the state.
The Government is offering judges the lucrative retirement scheme just weeks after the public voted in favour of cutting judicial salaries.
But the judges are pressing for more - and are furious that age restrictions still apply which keep district court judges out the deal.
Judges who qualify for the special new deal will be able to draw down their lump sums immediately - and receive their annual pension benefits based on their salaries before pay cuts.
A High Court judge who had served 10 years could retire early getting an extra €34,000 in their lump sum and a further boost in their annual pension.
This is because the pension and lump sum would be based on a pre-pay cut salary of €243,000 instead of the reduced salary of €206,618.
This puts them in a similar position to public servants, who are currently able to retire with pensions based on their pre-pay cut salaries, ahead of a February deadline.
But judges have lucrative State pensions that grow at up to three times the rate of public servants because their service is shorter.
They also have lucrative private pensions built up from years of previous work in legal practice.
The new deal was formulated by Justice Minister Alan Shatter and Public Reform Minister Brendan Howlin to avert the possibility of widespread protest resignations by judges.
The scheme will allow judges who are 65, but have not completed their full years of service, to retire early.
Unlike public servants, retirement age for most senior judges is 70, or 72 if they were appointed before 1995.
And until now, if judges retired early, they could not receive their lump sum or pension entitlements until they reached retirement age.
Under the new scheme neither the lump sum nor the overall value of the pension would be hit by the recent decision to cut pay.
Their annual pension would just be reduced slightly depending on their age, as it is recalculated to compensate for the extra years of retirement.
Despite these concessions, the early retirement scheme has been branded as “meaningless” by a new representative body for judges who say that age restrictions will disqualify all district court judges from the scheme.
District court judges retire at 65 just like public sector workers. But there is no early retirement deal for judges if they are under this age.
The newly formed Association of Judges in Ireland (AJI) has complained that district court judges are therefore being treated differently.
The AJI, whose President is High Court Judge Mr Justice Peter Kelly, has sought an urgent meeting with Mr Howlin on the matter.
And last night (THURS) the Government confirmed that it is considering a request to yield more ground, by reducing the age threshold in the face of stiff opposition by the bench.
The AJI said that its members had expected to be dealt with in an identical fashion to public servants.
“This expectation was derived from letters written by both the Attorney General and the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform indicating that the grace period made available to public servants would be made available to the judiciary,” it said in a statement released to the Irish Independent.
“The decision to provide CNER only to judges who are 65 years or more falls far short of both expectations and entitlements.”
There are seven judicial vacancies at present; four in the Circuit Court and three in the District Court.
One Supreme Court Judge is due to retire from the bench upon reaching age 70 on 28 February, 2012 and up to two more Supreme Court judges may retire this year. But the number of vacancies could swell significantly if up to 31 judges who are eligible to avail of the new scheme decide to retire early.
Meanwhile two major European and American legal bodies have warned about radical reforms of the legal professions in Ireland,
The Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) and the American Bar Association (ABA) published details of a letter to the Managing Director of the IMF yesterday.
The letter expresses growing concern about the independence of the legal profession in a number of bailed out European countries including Ireland.