Pay deterring best from High Court bench, MoJ warns

Topics: Government & politics,Judicial

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Immediate action is needed to recruit and retain High Court judges before an emerging shortage starts to have a ‘significant impact’ on the administration of justice, the Ministry of Justice warned today.

It also revealed that a family judge position was left unfilled last year because of a lack of suitable candidates. 

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In written evidence to the Senior Salaries Review Body, the quango which recommends the pay of judges and tribunal members, the MoJ has suggested that High Court judges should receive a 3% pay rise next year, taking salaries from £178,000 to £183,000.

The government highlighted two signs that it said demonstrate that difficulties in the recruitment and retention of High Court judges are starting to emerge:

  • An ‘unusual’ level of early retirements in the past two years after two judges opted to leave the bench before the age of 65;
  • In 2014/15 it was not possible to attract suitable candidates to fill a High Court vacancy in the Family Division. The MoJ described this failure as 'concerning'.

In addition, the MoJ said there was anecdotal evidence from the judiciary that current pay levels are discouraging people from applying for High Court appointments, and that existing High Court judges are considering leaving the bench early due to unsatisfactory pay and pension packages.

Changes to pension tax relief for those earning over £150,000 per year, announced in the summer budget, may also have an impact on future recruitment to the High Court bench as they will affect all members to the New Judicial Pension Scheme.

This concern comes against a backdrop of longstanding worries about recruitment and retention at senior level, including specific concerns about the increasing discrepancies in salary levels between High Court judges and the average earnings of practitioners.

The government has recommended a 3% increase in pay for High Court judges. It recommended a pay rise of 0.55% and 1% for judges at other levels.  

A pay rise ‘would provide some immediate mitigation to the emerging problems identified in relation to recruitment and retention at the High Court,' it said. 'The MoJ considers it appropriate to take such action now before more substantial problems occur.’ 

An MoJ spokesperson said this afternoon: 'We have proposed a judicial pay rise that averages 1%, which is the same proportion available to other public sector groups. In recognition of the unique service of High Court judges, we have proposed their pay is uplifted by 3% as part of this package.

'A strong, independent judiciary is essential in a modern democracy and we value greatly the role judges play in upholding the rule of law and delivering justice.'

Readers' comments (35)

  • The interim report by Lord Justice Briggs this week used the cost of litigation as an excuse to recommend the online court as a lawyer-free zone. He also then spent a long time complaining about barristers taking a pay cut to go sit on the Bench. Given that those on the High Court are paid about £175k even before this suggested payrise, perhaps Briggs LJ would like to consider his hypocrisy there in time for his final report. If our friends at the Bar are struggling to cope with a salary of £175k, this mere solicitor would happily volunteer to relieve them of their burden and take his place on the Bench.

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  • hahahahahahaha please stop my sides are killing me.....

    This whole system is getting to resemble one of the best comedy sketches that I have ever seen

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  • I would love a 3% increase- in fact anything other than more cuts

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  • £175k is a good salary by most people's standards (indeed, a very good salary). In addition there is a very good pension package. If anything was needed to persuade the "man in the street" (or on the Clapham omnibus) that the judiciary is out of touch then this is it!

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  • I would very much to apply for the High Court Judiciary but I am put off by the very low pay. Until this is rectified I will remain in private practice.

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  • The reason that they are retiring, my lovely darlings, is that they do not want to do what we do, which is to deal directly with the public and sort out their messes. Judges are paid to hear the facts and know the law and apply their considerable brains to legal problems. We, the comparatively thicker boys, do our thing. We have a function and all that will happen unless that function is recognised and respected is that the system will collapse. Everyone loves to hate solicitors and policemen, right up until the time when they are in trouble. Perhaps we and the Judges could both go mad and stick together.

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  • Solicitors are earning too much from Personal Injury on minimum wage (£13,500) but judges are under paid on £178,000??????

    Is this a Monty Python Sketch? Where's the Black Knight!

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  • Errm, by my maths, this increase only adds an extra £250 a month after tax - seems unlikely to stem the tide if pay is really the reason nobody wants to be a High Court judge any more. Or is it the job itself?

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  • "Its the same the whole world over
    Its the poor what gets the blame
    Its the rich what gets the pleasure
    Aent it all a bleedin' shame"

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  • It seems to me to be entirely obvious that a successful barrister (perhaps solicitor) would be loathed to give up £400k plus p/a to take £175k. What about the best talent earning £1mil p/a? The best talent is lost. Isn't this simple economice?

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