TDs criticise allowances for judges

 

SOME OF the allowances available to judges are akin to the moat allowance claimed by a British MP, the Dáil Public Accounts Committee chairman Bernard Allen said yesterday.

The committee was examining Courts Service expenditure when Fianna Fáil TD Brendan Kenneally said some “extraordinary” allowances were being paid to judges. He singled out two payments: a garage allowance and a sitting room allowance.

Brendan Ryan, Courts Service chief executive, said the €36 sitting room allowance harked back decades when judges spent a lot of time travelling, and may have needed to hire a separate room in a hotel to do their work. He said receipts had to be provided for the allowance.

The garage allowance of €7 a night was not vouched, he said and pointed out that the allowances had been negotiated by the Department of Finance many years ago.

Mr Allen asked that the Department of Finance provide the committee with more information on the allowances claimed by members of the judiciary.

He also queried the necessity for tip-staffs, who act as personal assistants to judges. Mr Allen said the employment of a tip-staff was a throwback to Victorian times.

Many people were experiencing cut backs and job losses, Mr Allen said, and “this is a luxury that judges could do without”.

However, Mr Ryan said judges did not have a large number of staff directly supporting them. He said tip-staffs were the only link between the judges and the legal profession and outside world.

There are about 83 such assistants to Supreme Court, High Court and Circuit Court judges, at a cost of about €2.5 million per year. They provide the judge with information about court sittings and times and escort them to and from the courtrooms.

Mr Ryan also told the committee there had been a 40 per cent increase in the number of cases being dealt with in the courts over the past four years. Criminal trials were also lasting longer, he said and cases which traditionally would have taken one or two days were now taking at least three or four days.

The committee also heard that there had been a 35 per cent reduction in the cost of interpretation services in the first five months of this year and this followed cost reductions last year.

Mr Ryan said the numbers appearing before courts and requiring interpretation were “significantly down” in recent times. Some 60 per cent of interpretation services were for Polish, Romanian and Lithuanian people.

He said “significant” progress had been made on the collection of fines and some 70 per cent of fines issued by courts were now paid, compared with 50 per cent a few years ago.

The committee also looked at the building of the new Criminal Courts of Justice complex and Labour’s Pat Rabbitte asked if it was time to question the benefit of Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) in the provision of new public buildings, when compared with the traditional method of procurement.

The new courts building was a PPP project and the deal was examined by Comptroller and Auditor General John Buckley. He found that it had complied with the relevant guidelines and said it was worth reflecting on how the process of comparison could be improved when choosing between the various procurement options.

Mr Ryan said major savings had been made with the closure of a number of courts following the opening of the Criminal Courts of Justice complex.