Judges raise concern at changes to allowances

Mobile phones, laptops and textbooks among items earmarked for cuts

The Courts Service has moved to end the automatic entitlement of new judges to laptops and BlackBerrys. Photograph: Bryan O'Brien

The Courts Service has moved to end the automatic entitlement of new judges to laptops and BlackBerrys. Photograph: Bryan O'Brien


Courts Service cutbacks concerning judges’ mobile phone allowances and their spend on legal text books have brought an angry response.

Newly released records under the Freedom of Information Act show the Association of Judges of Ireland has also expressed its concern over the Courts Service move to end the automatic entitlement of new judges to laptops and BlackBerrys.

The association was established in November 2011 to represent judges’ interests. Its president is Mr Justice Peter Kelly of the High Court.

The correspondence between Mr Justice Kelly and the chief executive of the Courts Service, Brendan Ryan, on the planned cutbacks reached its climax last July when the association confirmed it would ignore the Courts Service’s plan to reduce its mobile phone costs for judges pending resolution of the issue.

On July 18th, 2012, Mr Justice Kelly wrote: “Dear Mr Ryan, I regret having to write to you again concerning another apparent unilateral alteration made by the Courts Service to the terms and conditions applicable to judges.”

“Devoid of clarity”
Mr Justice Kelly pointed out that all judges were supplied with mobile phones by the Courts Service some years ago with the arrangement that judges would only be liable for any sums incurred by private phone use in excess of €100 a month. “The new arrangement is so devoid of clarity that it is impossible to know precisely what it is.”

He said the unilateral move by the Courts Service “is not indicative of good practice that should occur, neither is it acceptable to this association.”

He added: “Pending resolution of this issue, it is the view of this association that the €100 per month arrangement remains in place and it will advise its members accordingly.”

In response, Mr Ryan wrote to each serving judge: “I would like to take this opportunity to apologise for any confusion caused by the Courts Service in communicating the change of mobile phone usage policy.”

Mr Ryan said that under the new policy, international personal calls should be reimbursed to the Courts Service, with all domestic calls and official usage payable by the service.

Textbook allowance
The previous month, Mr Justice Kelly wrote to Mr Ryan to express the association’s concern over the decision to withdraw the judges’ allowance for textbooks.

“Again, it is hard to understand how judges can be expected to carry out their judicial functions effectively and efficiently if they are not supplied with the basic tools of their trade.”

Referring to the withdrawal of the automatic entitlement to laptops and BlackBerrys and the ending of the textbook allowance, Mr Justice Kelly wrote: “If our information on these two topics is correct, it raises very serious questions for the maintenance of an efficient and well-informed judiciary and an effective court system.”

Mr Ryan confirmed that automatic entitlements had ended but any new judge who requested a laptop or BlackBerry would be supplied with one.

Mr Justice Kelly wrote again on July 12th on the issue of textbooks. He said the Chambers Allowance formed part of the terms and conditions of judges. “The association finds if difficult to understand how these terms and conditions can be unilaterally altered without any consultation with this association or individual judges affected by it.”