Sunday 21 January 2018

New tension as judges meet over pension laws

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

MORE than half of the judiciary, including some of Ireland's most senior judges, have met to discuss the implications of pension laws for new entrants to the bench.

In a further sign of the increased tensions between the executive and the judiciary, which fears its independence is under threat, judges held a private meeting on Saturday at the King's Inns in Dublin.

Attendees at the meeting included Supreme Court Justices Donal O'Donnell, William McKechnie and Adrian Hardiman.

High Court judge Mr Justice Peter Kelly (inset), head of the Association of Judges of Ireland (AJI) – the representative body formed in the wake of the controversial referendum to reduce their pay – was also present at the hour-long meeting.

Last week, the AJI told the Irish Independent that it had "grave concerns" about the impact of Section 22 of the Public Service Pensions (Single Scheme and other Provisions) Act 2012.

The law, which came into effect on January 1, means all future judges will have to serve 20 years instead of 15 before they draw a full pension, a move that has already deterred several senior lawyers from applying to become judges.

New entrants must also pay a 13pc contribution towards their pension instead of the 4pc paid by existing judges.

The Government insists that the Single Scheme law was "robustly debated" in both houses of the Oireachtas.

But the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has admitted that although it held talks with the judiciary in late 2011 about a cost-neutral early retirement scheme for judges, the single scheme "was not raised as a major issue, if at all" in the course of the consultations.

The explanatory memorandum accompanying the law also failed to explain to politicians that judges of the Circuit, High and Supreme Courts must now serve for 20 years before drawing a full pension.

The Bar Council and the Law Society, the ruling bodies for the barrister and solicitor branches of the legal profession, have alerted their members to the new changes.

The AJI says the extension from 15 to 20 years before a full pension is acquired has "considerable consequences for both quality and experience" of future candidates.

Irish Independent

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