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Thirty judges got €520,000 for expenses in 2010

A small cohort of judges was last year paid in excess of €500,000 in mileage and expenses, including a host of allowances for home libraries, sitting room allowances and wigs and frocks.

Thirteen judges from the Circuit Court and 17 judges from the District Court received the generous expenses as a result of living more than 20km from their assigned districts.

Figures from the Department of Justice, supplied to this newspaper by Fine Gael TD Derek Keating, show that five judges received more than €30,000 each in expenses last year.

In total, the 30 Circuit and District Court judges claimed €520,424 worth of mileage and expenses last year for travelling to the areas where they sit in judgment.

The revelations come following a summer of rancour between the judiciary and Justice Minister Alan Shatter, who is bringing forward a referendum to reduce judges' pay next month.

According to the information supplied by Mr Shatter's department, the cosseted members of the bench benefit from a wide array of expenses, ranging from allowances for wigs of €2,195 and for frock coats of €745, all on top of their six-figure salaries.

Fashion guru Louise Kennedy was last year commissioned by the then Chief Justice John L Murray to design robes for the judiciary.

Court districts and circuits have more than one court venue and judges are required to travel between them.

The department said: "Judges also receive an annual expense allowance to cover the provision of a study and suitable library facilities when required to work at home, in dealing with urgent applications in the case of the District Court or in the higher courts."

Mr Keating said the extraordinary array of expenses and allowances must be brought to an end. "Can I say directly to the Chief Justice 'you are paid by taxpayer's money. You and all judges are public servants. This country is in financial crisis and judges, like all public servants have to play their part in our economic recovery.'"

He added: "I have never met a poor judge. I don't know many judges who have the St Vincent de Paul calling to their house or who have to visit MABS. In my view, judges generally do a good job and are well rewarded for it. We need to get real."

One District Court judge in 2009 received more than three times the average industrial wage in expenses by claiming €91,909.

The figure is part of €2.3m claimed by the State's judiciary last year in expenses, including a 53 per cent rise in the spend on wigs and gowns, totalling €40,138. However, the overall figure for expenses is down 5 per cent from the €2.4m claimed in 2008.

Mr Shatter's referendum proposes that judges will take pay cuts ranging from 16.3 per cent to 23.2 per cent if it is passed, saving the State €5.5m. Under the plan, the Chief Justice's salary would be reduced from €295,916 to €227,168, and that of the President of the High Court from €274,779 to €211,088, a reduction of 23.2 per cent in both cases.

A Supreme Court judge's salary would go from €257,872 to €198,226. That of the President of the Circuit Court would go from €249,418 to €191,794, a High Court judge from €243,080 to €186,973, President of the District Court from €183,894 to €146,885 and a Circuit Court judge from €177,554 to €141,892 -- a reduction in each case of 20.1 per cent. A District Court judge's salary would fall from €147,961 to €123,881, a reduction of 16.3 per cent.

A number of senior judges who suffered huge losses from ill-fated property investments and a meltdown in bank shares face financial ruin, it has emerged.

Financial experts are believed to have advised up to 10 members of the judiciary that they will not be able to meet their financial commitments -- many of which are linked to multimillion-euro property investments -- owing to the pending pay and pension cuts.

Sunday Independent