Judges consider quitting over poor pay and pensions
A disenchanted judiciary speaks out over deteriorating work environment
Inadequate pay, poor working conditions, and a lack of support is pushing the judiciary to the limit, with two out of five judges admitting they have considered leaving the bench.
The latest Judicial Attitude Survey found 42 per cent of salaried judges would consider quitting the judiciary if it was possible – almost double the amount in 2014. Some 36 per cent have considered early retirement over the next five years, predominantly due to limits on pay awards (68 per cent) and reductions in pension benefits (68 per cent).
Most judges said higher remuneration (80 per cent), settled pensions (57 per cent), and better administrative support (56 per cent) would help keep them on the bench until retirement age.
Seventy-eight per cent of judges said they had experienced a net loss of earnings over the last two years, while 62 per cent said the change in pensions had affected them. Seventy-four per cent felt their pay and pension entitlement combined did not adequately reflect their work.
The dispute which saw 210 judges bring a legal challenge against the Lord Chancellor’s changes to pensions entitlements in April 2015 has had an impact on morale, according to 62 per cent of respondents. Judges born after 1 April 1957 were required to leave the judicial pension scheme and consider membership of a less favourable scheme.
Further demands for out-of-hours work (54 per cent), stressful working conditions (54 per cent), and a reduction in administrative support (51 per cent) were also cited as potential reasons for departing. Over half (51 per cent) were concerned for their personal safety while in court.
Despite this, three-quarters of judges said they were satisfied with the challenge of their job (77 per cent) and the variety of their work (73 per cent).
Just over half (57 per cent) said they would encourage others to apply to the judiciary for the chance to contribute to justice being done (79 per cent); the challenge of the work (75 per cent); intellectual satisfaction (70 per cent); and public service (70 per cent).
However, 17 per cent said they would not encourage applications to the judiciary. The top five reasons given were: likelihood of further pension reductions (73 per cent); reduction in income (65 per cent); constant policy changes (57 per cent); lack of administrative support (52 per cent); and the feeling of being an employee or civil servant (51 per cent).
JAS respondents were also asked about the current IT resources available to them. Over half (54 per cent) said the standard of court IT equipment was poor; 46 per cent said IT support was poor; and 41 per cent highlighted poor internet access.
Lord Justice Briggs’s review into the civil courts structure, which includes the introduction of online case management and paperless hearings, has been backed by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and the former Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson.
Commenting on the report, Lord Thomas and the senior president of tribunals, Sir Ernest Ryder, said: ‘The quality of the judiciary underpins the rule of law and the continued success of our legal services market nationally and internationally.
‘In the light of the substantially greater remuneration available to the most able practitioners in private practice, these matters are vital to our ability to attract candidates and retain judges of the highest calibre.’
Matthew Rogers is a reporter at Solicitors Journal