Saturday, May 7, 2011

Carol Coulter on Judges' Pension Issue

Carol Coulter has a typically balanced piece on the kerfuffle on judges' pensions in the Irish Times. It is a marked break from some of the sensationalist coverage in the media here. There are massive differences between the average public servant and the higher judiciary and these must be borne in mind when trying to impose cuts across the board. It is true that many appointees trade off income from lucrative practice for the prestige and privileges that come with holding judicial office. At some point the last two factors do not balance the lost income. I do not know if we are at this point in this jurisdiction yet but we should be careful to avoid setting up a system where the financial hit disincentivizes the very best lawyers from seeking positions on the bench. Critics might argue that the very best lawyers might not necessarily be the ones earning the big bucks in private practice and that there are plenty of excellent candidates who would take lower salaries without complaint. They might even point at evidence from other jurisdictions - like the U.S. - where academics and others without large incomes from private practice have gone on to become brilliant judges of the higher courts. In any case, this is an issue that needs sober consideration rather than sensational media coverage, especially because judges cannot respond publicly to these attacks. There is also the unfairness and possible illegality associated with retrospective deprivation of entitlements already accrued. Many judges planned their financial futures based on promises made by the state at the time of their appointment and hitting them now with these burdens for a trivial benefit to the economy seems unnecessary.