10 February 2017Print This Post

Judges ready to jump ship over declining pay and conditions

LCJ: higher remuneration in private practice

Research has shown widespread disaffection among the judiciary with working conditions, including findings that almost half of High Court judges would quit the bench early if possible.

Nearly twice as many judges in 2016 felt like going than did two years earlier.

Meanwhile, the government has dropped a key proposal aimed at increasing diversity in the judiciary – introducing single, non-renewable fixed terms for fee-paid judges – after a consultation revealed broad opposition to the plan.

The 2016 UK judicial attitude survey for England and Wales courts and UK tribunals carried out an online poll of salaried judges anonymously last summer. All but 22 of the 1,602 judges in courts and tribunals combined completed the survey.

Results included that while the overwhelming majority believed they provided an important service to society and found the work satisfying, just 2% of judges felt valued by the government and 3% by the media, compared to 43% by the public at large.

Three-quarters said their conditions had deteriorated since the last attitudes survey in 2014, with a similar proportion claiming their pay and pension entitlement combined did not reflect the work done. Almost two-thirds said both pay and pension changes had negatively affected the morale of colleagues.

More than a third of the salaried judiciary (36%) said they might consider leaving early in the next five years, with almost half (47%) of High Court judges agreeing. Overall, 42% of judges would leave if they had a viable alternative, almost double the 23% finding in 2014.

Calculated by gender, 31% (144) of female judges said they were currently considering leaving.

Eight out of 10 judges said higher remuneration would keep them in the job until retirement age, while 57% said a settled position on pensions and 56% better administrative support would be reasons to stay.

In other findings, just over half of judges had concerns for their personal safety in court and 37% outside of court. More than half rated the standard of IT used in court as poor and some four in 10 felt IT support, internet access and personal IT equipment was also poor.

While three-quarters of judges were satisfied with the quality of judicial training, large numbers were unhappy with the short amount of time they had to discuss work with colleagues, insufficient support for stressful work conditions, and inadequate opportunities for career progression.

In a joint statement, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, and the Senior President of Tribunals, Sir Ernest Ryder, said the finding would help in making “evidence-based recommendations” to government on judicial pay.

“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.”

On the government’s plans for revised terms and conditions for judges, the Ministry of Justice abandoned the proposal to introduce single, non-renewable terms for fee-paid judges after the measure was roundly condemned by a majority of the more than 400 responses to consultation.

The policy aimed to improve the diversity of the fee-paid judiciary and create clearer career progression by explicitly designating fee-paid office as a stepping stone to salaried judge.

Objections included that it would mean experienced judges left the service at the end of their term, particularly tribunal judges.

Law Society president Robert Bourns said: “Setting non-renewable fixed terms would have been a backwards step, making these roles less attractive to new judicial candidates, and we’re pleased the government has listened to the responses to their consultation and thought better of this idea.”

But the government said it would press ahead with plans to replace guaranteed sitting days with an “expectation” of the number of days. Mr Bourns said he was concerned: “Removing clear minimum expectations of income and time does not add flexibility, but instead makes it harder for solicitors and their firms to understand the commitment they are entering into.”

By Dan Bindman

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