Judicial pay referendum agreed

 

The Government has decided to hold a referendum on judicial salaries at the same time as the presidential election.

The decision follows a Cabinet meeting this morning when Minister for Justice Alan Shatter proposed the motion.

Under the Constitution, pay cuts imposed across the rest of the public sector do not apply to the judiciary. This is intended to protect the independence of the judiciary and prevent governments from imposing pay cuts as a reprisal for judgments with which they disagree.

However, the Referendum to amend Article 35.5 of the Constitution, if approved, would result in judicial salaries being reduced only in the context of a cut in pay for others on similar incomes.

Following this morning's Cabinet meeting, Mr Shatter said the independence of the judiciary is "the cornerstone of our constitutional democracy" but it is important it is seen to be "playing their its part in recognising the economic difficulties of this State".

Mr Shatter said the judiciary should not be viewed as an "elite…immune from the economic cataclysm that has hit this country".

He said the referendum will not allow the judiciary to be "singled out" or "targeted" for any pay reduction unrelated to reductions in the public service generally.

The programme for government states that priority will be given to "a referendum to amend the Constitution to allow the State to cut the salaries of judges in restricted circumstances as part of a general cut across the public sector".

Last April, special arrangements were put in place to allow judges to make voluntary payments to Revenue.

Chief Justice John L Murray said at the time that each judge must be allowed to decide for themselves whether to make a contribution. According to figures from Revenue and the Courts Service, the take-up rate has been 85 per cent.

According to the Revenue Commissioners annual report for 2010, 125 judges have handed back €1.5 million in respect of the short term income levy, and €1.25 million in other voluntary pay cuts.

The Courts Service said there are 147 judges on the state payroll.