Thursday 15 November 2018

Lawyers shun judges' jobs due to pay and pension cuts

High Court Judge Michael Peart
High Court Judge Michael Peart
Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

A senior judge has said that barristers and solicitors are being put off becoming judges because of cuts to pay and pensions.

High Court Judge Michael Peart, the first solicitor appointed to the High Court, also said that he believed that the public is not fully aware of the extent of the cuts to judicial pay.

In an interview with 'The Parchment', the magazine of the Dublin Solicitors Bar Association (DSBA), Judge Peart - judge designate to the new Court of Appeal - said there is no reason why judges shouldn't bear their fair share of the state's burden.

New High Court judges will be paid €168,481 a year, a drop of 31pc from current High Court judges, who receive €243,080.

New Circuit Court judges will be paid €127,908, almost a third less than serving Circuit Court judges.

Many senior lawyers are not putting their names forward for selection because of the cuts.

Judicial pensions, once seen as the trade-off for lawyers in terms of reduced salary, are also no longer attractive as new judges must now serve 20 instead of 15 years before they draw down a full pension.

Judge Peart said it was "unfortunate" that not all judges had signed up to a voluntary pay cut in 2009 in lieu of the mandatory pension levy imposed on all public sector workers.

The initial slow uptake by judges of the voluntary pay cut - 85pc of judges eventually did sign up for it - led to calls for, and the eventual holding of, a referendum to allow judges' pay to be cut.

Previously, judges' pay could not be reduced during their term of office, but the 2011 poll was overwhelmingly passed by the electorate.

"I think that at the time (in 2009) the fact that not all judges had signed up to a voluntary pay cut led the public to believe that judges as a group thought they were entitled to be treated somewhat differently," said Judge Peart.

"I think that it is unfortunate that it wasn't 100pc.

"I think that as time has passed, the public sees judges as having taken their fair share of the burden, although I'm not sure that people are fully aware of the cuts."

Next week the Government will nominate seven appointments to fill the new Court of Appeal and to replenish vacancies amid concerns that the High Court has been "decimated" by the departure of senior judges.

Six serving judges of the High Court have been nominated as judges-designate of the new Court of Appeal whose President-Designate is High Court Judge Mr Justice Sean Ryan.

In the last four years some 62 judges, including six "specialist judges" to deal with insolvency matters, have been appointed to the District, Circuit, High and Supreme Courts.

The Government has come under sustained pressure to reform the judicial appointments process.

At present, judges are appointed by the President on foot of the advice of the Government after they have applied to the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board.

Serving judges elevated to higher courts do not need to go through the JAAB process.

The Government is currently reviewing procedures for appointment to judicial office, but the process will not be complete for some time.

The Law Society, the ruling body for solicitors, has called on the Government to appoint more solicitors to the bench.

Of the 49 High and Supreme Court appointments since 2002, only four - or 8pc - have been solicitors, prompting the Society to complain that very high-calibre solicitor-candidates have been "passed over".

In a message to solicitors, Society President John P Shaw said that the problem seems to arise primarily at least, between the JAAB and the Cabinet "and, perhaps, within the Cabinet".

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News