Lord Chancellor David Gauke has given his strongest indication yet that he is ready to act on increasing the judicial retirement age. Gauke said a potential increase from 70 to 72 was something he wanted to explore further, both to hold onto existing judges but also to attract new recruits.
In March, Supreme Court president Lady Hale told the House of Lords constitution committee that she backed raising the mandatory retirement age by two years. She is due to retire next January.
Speaking to the same committee today, Gauke signaled that his stance on the issue had shifted in the past year and he is now considering consulting on change.
‘I am increasingly of the view that at 70 we are losing a lot of talent that is certainly more than capable of contributing to the judiciary,’ he said. ‘The nature of the role of a judge is one where experience and expertise counts for a great deal. In an environment where life expectancy has increased significantly – six years since 1993 – there is a case for looking at this again.’
Gauke noted that the ‘strong case’ for moving to 72 was not just about getting another couple of years from the existing judiciary, but whether there is the chance to attract lawyers who feel ‘if I go to 72 I could have a more worthwhile career and advance further’.
Although there is no upper age limit for candidates, the judiciary states that applicants should be able to offer a ‘reasonable length of service – usually at least five years’.
Despite the best efforts of the judiciary to recruit more judges, Gauke acknowledged there remains a problem with shortages on the bench which is having a knock-on effect on those picking up the extra burden.
‘We are not getting the number of applicants that we want,’ added Gauke. ‘We are clearly short in the High Court at the moment and that shortage is due to increase later this year. We would be short by 18 [judges]. ‘There is a risk that we have a vicious cycle here, because that then increases the workload which can itself make the experience of being a judge less attractive.’