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Tuesday 12 December 2017

Judges tell of 'grave concerns' over new pension terms and 45pc pay cuts

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

THE country's judges have "grave concerns" about pension terms for new judges.

The Association of Judges of Ireland (AJI), the representative body for judges, has told the Irish Independent that the judiciary was not consulted about the changes.

In a statement, the AJI – which will hold a special meeting for judges this weekend – said that take-home pay for serving judges has dropped by a third since 2009 and up to 45pc for new judges.

And it added that the association has "grave concerns" about the changes that have been brought about by Section 22 of the Public Service Pensions (Single Scheme and Other Provisions) Act 2012.

Under the law, which came into effect on January 1, new judges will have to serve 20 years instead of 15 years before they can draw a full pension.

Future appointees must also pay a 13pc contribution towards their pension, instead of the current 4pc that is paid by serving judges.

The AJI, led by High Court judge Mr Justice Peter Kelly, said that the extension from 15 to 20 years before a full pension entitlement is acquired has "considerable consequences for both quality and experience" of future candidates.

"It should be pointed out that even after a 20-year term, it is unlikely that a retiring judge would be paid a pension equal to one half of salary at retirement" it said.

The AJI said it was concerned about the "cumulative increase" of 9pc in the pension contribution rate, which comes on top of a 10pc pension levy introduced in 2009 and the 4pc contribution for officeholders introduced in 2010.

Last night, the Government said it met with the judiciary in late 2011, when the bench was concerned about accessing a cost-neutral early retirement scheme for serving judges, a scheme that was subsequently secured.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform insists that the single scheme was the subject of "extensive debate" in the Oireachtas, but admitted that pension terms for new judges weren't raised with the judiciary.

"The Single Scheme itself was not raised as a major issue, if at all, in the course of these consultations," said the department.

It added that judges would be less severely impacted by the Single Scheme than other groups because they have single-point pay scales.

The country's judges are already on a collision course with the Government over the appointment of civil servants as specialist insolvency judges, the snubbing of a colleague for a senior EU post and requests for judges to cut their holidays and work longer hours as part of the revised Croke Park deal.

Judges are not public sector workers and, as the third branch of Government, are not formally part of the talks.

But the Government wants to reform management of the courts, the exclusive preserve of the judiciary, in line with terms to be imposed on public sector workers.

Planned cuts to pay and pensions will apply to serving and retired judges. The AJI says that the reduction in judicial take-home pay between 2009 and 2013 is up to 33pc for existing judges and up to 45pc for newly appointed judges.

The AJI's statement comes days after the Chief Justice, Mrs Justice Susan Denham, delivered a keynote speech on judicial independence and reform of the courts.

Judge Denham, speaking at a seminar on the establishment of a Court of Appeal, defended the bench, saying she was honoured to be working with judges who "are undertaking a key role, patriotically" through "this time of national crisis".

Irish Independent

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