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Government ushers in emergency pay boost for judges amid shortages

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has ushered in an emergency boost to senior judges’ remuneration as an unprecedented recruitment crisis continues to grip the Bench. The move, announced on Wednesday (5 June), is in response to a review by the Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB) and will see High Court judges handed a 25% annual bonus and circuit and upper tribunal judges a 15% raise.

As part of a two-year temporary ‘bonus’, High Court judges will receive £47,225 on top of their £188,901 yearly pay in addition to a 2% pay rise. Circuit and upper tribunal judges will be paid £21,043 in addition to a £140,289 salary.

Senior City litigators welcomed the intervention amid mounting concerns that the Bench is failing to attract enough quality advocates, potentially harming the international standing of English courts. More than 10% of High Court judicial posts are currently vacant, while the Chancery Division, which handles major commercial cases, has 20% of its roles empty; the MoJ’s own assessment is that the Chancery Division could see 40% of its slots vacant by the end of the year without drastic action.

Ashurst disputes partner James Levy told Legal Business: ‘We have first-class judges who do vital and difficult work. Sadly, for too long successive governments have taken the judiciary, and more broadly the judicial system, for granted.

‘Funding has been slashed and it’s no surprise the supply side is now running dry. Many outstanding and public-spirited senior lawyers have been put off by the excessive workload and significant degradation of judicial pay and conditions. I welcome the Government’s acknowledgement that there is a problem and I hope it’s serious about reinvigorating the Bench.’

The increases will be backdated to April and impact the salaries of around a quarter of salaried judges. It is intended as an immediate stop-gap while the MoJ reaches a ‘long-term, sustainable… solution’ for all judges. The MoJ said it will also consult on reforming ‘tax disincentives’ currently impacting judicial pensions.

Against a backdrop of senior judges leaving to go back to chambers as arbitrators, which one City litigator branded ‘an unprecedented phenomenon’, many senior lawyers feel the Government is still acting too late to head off a crisis at the Bench. The package also falls notably short of the SSRB’s recommendation that High Court judges should get a 32% permanent salary increase and 22% for circuit and upper tribunal judges.

The MoJ has been one of the worst-hit Whitehall department after years of austerity, with its budget plunging in recent years.

Lord Chancellor David Gauke said in a statement: ‘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.’

nathalie.tidman@legalease.co.uk

Click here for an in-depth report on the profession’s concerns regarding judicial investment


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