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Hiring crisis: High Court judges in line for £47k sweetener

By Monidipa Fouzder

High Court judges are to receive a temporary annual salary top-up of nearly £50,000 as the government tries to combat what it acknowledged today is a recruitment crisis.  However the extra money will not go to judges at the level where solicitors are most likely to be found: district and first-tier tribunal judges will receive only a 2% pay rise.

The Ministry of Justice today announced that it is taking immediate steps to tackle ’emerging and unprecedented’ recruitment issues. For the first time in consecutive recruitment campaigns, it said, High Court and circuit bench vacancies have been left unfilled, ‘raising the risk of vulnerable people waiting longer for life-changing decisions’.

To address this, the ministry is upping from 11% to 25% the temporary recruitment and retention allowance introduced for High Court judges in 2017. Taking into account the 2% pay rise announced today for all members of the judiciary, High Court judges will receive a £188,901 salary in 2019-20. The allowance, which will be backdated to 1 April, will therefore be £47,225.

A temporary 15% allowance is being introduced for circuit and upper tribunal judges. Taking into account the pay rise, these judges will receive an annual salary of £140,289. The allowance will therefore be £21,043.

The allowance applies to judges eligible for the 2015 pension scheme. The ministry says about a quarter of the 1,850 salaried judges will be affected; around 60 will qualify for the 25% allowance.

Today’s announcement is part of the government’s response to a review by the Senior Salaries Review Body. Despite being told by the body that there was evidence of a ‘an emerging recruitment problem’ at the district bench and first-tier tribunal levels, the ministry decided not to introduce an allowance, saying ‘this is not, at this stage, as significant as the problems facing the higher tiers of the judiciary’.

However, the ministry said it was acutely aware of district and first-tier tribunal judges’ crucial role in the justice system ‘and will continue to monitor the situation’.

Today’s figures are significantly below what the review body recommend last year. The ministry said they strike ‘a balance between an appropriate investment of public funds and addressing serious recruitment and retention problems’.

In another attempt to make judicial positions more attractive, the ministry announced it would revise its part-time working policy for salaried judges to enable more to work flexibly.

David Gauke, lord chancellor and justice secretary, said: ‘Our judges are a cornerstone of our democratic society – their experience draws billions of pounds worth of business to the UK, and without them people cannot get justice. We have reached a critical point. There are too many vacancies and with the retirement of many judges looming; we must act now before we see a serious impact on our courts and tribunals.

‘Judges are in a unique position and once they join the bench are not permitted to return to practice. Without the best legal minds in these seats, everyone that uses our courts will suffer, as will our international reputation. This temporary allowance, pending long-term pension scheme change, will enable us to continue to attract the brightest and best and prevent delays to potentially life-changing decisions.’

(Courtesy: Law Society Gazette)