Judicial pay referendum ‘does not make sense’

PROPOSED judiciary pay cuts “don’t make economic sense” according to a Cork-based district court judge.

Judge Michael Pattwell, who has 21 years service on the bench, said the cost of changing the Constitution through a referendum far outweighs the savings from cutting judges pay.

The outspoken judge, who is due to retire at the end of the month, said the Government is “only doing what the people have been clamouring for”.

“I think it is probably a populist move because if you do the figures what is to be saved? About €250,000 per year.

“It’s going to cost a couple of million to run the referendum, so it just doesn’t make economic sense,” Judge Pattwell said.

He said he was not taking a stand against the proposed pay cut, nor did he know of any colleague who would.

Judge Pattwell said that to his knowledge, more than 90% of judges voted in support of taking a voluntary pay cut of 10%.

“The fact of the matter is that the most democratic act of all is to vote in a general election and only about 60%-70% vote in a general election; over 90% of judges did what they felt was the right thing and voted to voluntarily cut their pay by 10%.”

Public service pay cuts were not applied to judges, who earn between €147,000 and €295,000 a year, because of a constitutional clause.

However, voters will be asked to amend the Constitution in the autumn to give the Government the power to cut judicial pay.

Asked if he feared pay cuts could be used in the future to influence judges’ decisions, Judge Patwell said there were elements within the Government that he did not trust.

Speaking on yesterday’s Newstalk’s Breakfast show, Judge Pattwell said he personally knows judges who are struggling financially and said each individual had their own problems.

Judge Pattwell announced his retirement at the end of May.

His comments echo the views of barrister Tomas Clancy, a law lecturer at Independent College, Dublin, who put the case for not having such a referendum on RTÉ Radio’s Pat Kenny programme yesterday.

However, on the same programme, Justice Minister Alan Shatter said he believed it was “important that the judiciary aren’t seen as an elite, immune from the economic difficulties suffered presently by the state”.

The country’s most senior judge, Chief Justice John Murray, currently draws a salary of €295,000. If the proposed referendum is passed, his pay will be slashed by €44,000.

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