Judicial pension reforms may detonate recruitment ‘time bomb’

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Jul 19, 2017
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A hundred circuit judges may be needed over the next five years

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Judicial pension reforms risk detonating a recruitment “time bomb”, the lord chief justice has warned the body that reviews the pay of senior public servants.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd said that there was an “unprecedented” level of judicial vacancies and many senior judges having warned that they will retire early to take alternative work. He added that a record 100 circuit judges out of 650 would need to be recruited as a result of the changes to judges’ pensions.

The most senior judge in England and Wales made his comments in supplementary evidence to the Review Body on Senior Salaries, which advises the government on pay for judges, civil servants, and armed forces officers and reported yesterday. He said that several members of the higher judiciary had publicly stated they would refuse to join the 2015 judicial pension scheme and would leave the judiciary once their transitional protection ended.

The report suggests that the government is still planning to appeal the employment tribunal’s decision in January that the transitional pension arrangements for 210 judges amount to unlawful age discrimination.

Lord Thomas said that of 150 senior judges, 34 would be retiring in 2016-17, more than double the previous norm. He said that more than 100 new High Court judges could be needed in the next five years.

Despite trying to recruit 25 High Court judges in January 2017, by October the 108-strong High Court cohort will be down 22 judges before anyone is appointed from the recruitment competition held in January. The High Court had an “unprecedented” number of unfilled vacancies this year. Eight judges were recruited in an exercise to fill 14 posts. Early High Court retirements have significantly increased.

The situation has become so bad that the review body considered recommending a pay increase of more than the 1 per cent given to other public sector workers, its report says. However it added: “Before we could report, the Ministry of Justice notified us of the government’s own decision to put in place a new allowance worth 11 per cent of pay for some judges in the High Court in England and Wales. The government did not seek the independent advice of the SSRB on this matter.”

The circuit bench also failed to meet its recruitment target for the first time in 2016-17 and recruitment over the coming months should be monitored, the report says. Lord Thomas said that he was asking for a “cautious approach” to unfilled circuit bench posts. He said application numbers may have fallen “following developments in legal aid policy, or because criminal law solicitors and barristers were moving into more lucrative work”.

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