Plan to cut judges' pay descends into farce
GOVERNMENT plans to reduce judicial pay descended into farce last night when two departments tasked with implementing the cuts could not say whether they would apply to the State's 147 serving judges.
The Government this week published details of a massive 31pc pay cut for Supreme and High Court judges, and 25pc for Circuit and District Court judges.
The cuts are designed to bring judges' pay into line with new salary rates for top earners in the public sector and are dependent on a referendum due in October.
It is expected that the electorate will overwhelmingly approve a cut to judges' pay at this poll.
However, last night neither the Department of Justice nor the Department of Public Expenditure could definitively state whether the new salary caps would be applied to sitting judges, rather than just newly appointed ones.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter has previously stated that if the referendum was passed wage deductions for judges could not apply retrospectively.
But yesterday the Department of Justice, which has drawn up the draft terms of the proposed referendum, said it was a matter for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
In a statement last night it could not definitively state what pay cuts judges could receive, but said: "The referendum will enable legislation to be introduced to apply some of the deductions that have been applied across the public sector."
The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, led by Minister Brendan Howlin, said it could not pre-empt the outcome of the referendum on pay -- which it said was a matter for Mr Shatter.
"The proposed referendum is designed to ensure that change is possible from a constitutional point of view," said a Justice spokesperson.
"The (actual) pay rates are a matter for the department of public expenditure."
According to calculations by the Irish Independent, the salary caps announced this week by Mr Howlin for the State's 147 judges could save a total of €7m annually.
This is likely to far outweigh the cost of holding the referendum to give the Government the power to reduce the pay of judges.
Potential pay cuts could lead to an unprecedented decision by some judges to resign or attempt to return to private practice.
The Irish Independent has learned that several judges who took on financial obligations based on the security of their pay are now experiencing severe financial difficulties. Some are contemplating resignation from the bench.
Others are giving serious consideration to a return to private practice, a move that could create major difficulties if judges have made rulings on issues they later seek to represent on behalf of clients in court.
One of the main issues that is set to be discussed is whether judges will, in the future, be able to take on paid work outside of their judicial office as judges in America and other countries can.
Provided the public approve the measure, the salary of the Supreme Court Chief Justice will be cut by 31pc from €295,916 to €203,425. High Court judges will have their salaries cut by 31pc from €243,080 to €168,481.