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. 

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.'