ANYONE listening to Brian Lenihan’s budget speech may have got the impression the Government would – indirectly at least – be pressurising judges to volunteer pay cuts.
However, that is not actually the case.
Mr Lenihan told the Dáil that the review group assessing public sector salaries felt it could not recommend a cut in judges’ pay because of a constitutional provision on this issue.
Article 35.5 of the Constitution states: “The remuneration of a judge shall not be reduced during his continuance in office.”
This provision prevented the Government from applying the public sector pension levy to judges when it introduced that measure last February.
The pension levy effectively cut public sector pay by an average of almost 7% – but it wasn’t applied to judges.
With Wednesday’s budget, the Government has decided to implement direct public sector pay cuts, but, again, judges won’t be hit.
“The Review Body concluded that the Constitution precluded them from recommending a reduction in judicial pay,” Mr Lenihan told the Dáil in his speech.
“Had they not been so precluded, they would have considered a downward adjustment.
“For the same reason the pension levy was not applied to the judiciary, though many judges have contributed an amount on a voluntary basis. I can inform the House that the Chief Justice and the presidents of the courts have urged all judges to make the appropriate pension contribution. I will make provision in the Finance Bill to facilitate these payments.”
All Mr Lenihan is doing there is providing in legislation for a system to facilitate judges taking the pension levy.
The system itself is already in place. In April, because of mounting public anger that members of the judiciary were excluded from the pension levy, Chief Justice John Murray contacted the Revenue Commissioners to arrange for judges to “make an appropriate voluntary contribution” in lieu of the levy if they wished. Revenue subsequently arranged for such a scheme.
But the latest figures from Revenue, released at the end of September, showed just half of the country’s judges – or 72 out of 144 – had signed up to the scheme almost six months after it was put in place.
What Brian Lenihan told the Dáil may have sounded, upon first hearing, as if the Chief Justice and the presidents of the courts would be urging judges to take further cuts.
In fact, as the transcript of the speech shows, all the Chief Justice and the presidents will be doing is urging those judges who haven’t yet signed up for the pension levy scheme to do so.
Judges are paid between €147,000 and €296,000 a year. Other public sector workers on those salary levels are now facing pay cuts of between 8% and 15% as a result of this week’s budget. But judges will escape such cuts.
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