Friday 19 January 2018

Early exit of no-nonsense judge could herald a judiciary exodus

Mr Justice Peter Kelly's departure is unlikely to be the last casualty Shatter's reign, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

Calling it a day: Mr Justice Peter Kelly is perfectly right to leave. Photo: Arthur Carron
Calling it a day: Mr Justice Peter Kelly is perfectly right to leave. Photo: Arthur Carron

Eilis O'Hanlon

For most people, the resignation of a judge probably belongs in the "Small Earthquake, Not Many Dead" category of new stories. Nonetheless, the announcement that Mr Justice Peter Kelly, head of the Commercial Court and president of the Association of Judges of Ireland, is stepping down a full six years before retirement age carries its own seismic implications.

Known for his no-nonsense approach, Mr Justice Kelly has presided over some of the most high-profile cases before the Commercial Court since its inception, regularly despatching the collected excuses of boo-hooing bankrupt builders and their legal representatives like a lion imperiously flicking away flies with its tail. Now he'll be gone, possibly as early as Easter, and he surely won't be the last. Judges have already said they're not happy, firstly at being forced to serve 20 years rather than 15 before qualifying for a full pension; secondly because, from next January, they'll face a "super tax" on pensions, thereby losing up to 70 per cent of everything above €115,000.

Now €115,000 a year is a lot of money. I wouldn't turn my nose up at it. And, of course, we're supposed to snigger these days when those higher up the salary chain get their fingers burned because, sure, wasn't it the "rich" who caused the crash? But the fact is that judges could have built up much more lucrative pension pots had they stayed in private practice; Mr Justice Kelly himself was a successful commercial litigation lawyer for years. Judges give up a lot when they don the wig.

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