Responding to “unprecedented recruitment issues”, the government yesterday announced it had found extra money it hopes will stem vacancies in the senior judiciary, by more than doubling top-up allowances given to new High Court judges.
An increase in the ‘recruitment and retention’ allowance from 11% to 25% of salary for High Court judges – amounting to almost £50,000 at current rates – will be added to a 2% salary rise for 2019/20 applied to all judges from this April, the same rate as last year after a total increase in gross wages of just 5.1% between 2009/10 and 2017/18.
The pay boost will be temporary, pending the outcome of ongoing judicial pensions litigation, and about a quarter of the 1,850 salaried judges in England and Wales are expected to be eligible – it applies only to judges on the new 2015 pension scheme.
They will still earn less than those on the more generous 1993 pension scheme.
The temporary allowance available to circuit and upper tribunal judges will be 15% of salary, or more than £20,000.
However, there will be no inducement to join the ranks of district or first-tier tribunal judges, as the government assessed the need to be less pressing.
The Ministry of Justice admitted that the recruitment of judges had reached crisis point after three consecutive advertising campaigns had for the first time left unfilled positions on both the High Court and circuit benches .
Promotions and retirements this year would make matters worse.
It acknowledged vacancies of 10% in the High Court and said the rate was 20% in the Chancery Division – a shortfall expected to double by the end of the year “without urgent action”.
Explaining the increased allowances, the government highlighted the impact of delays in cases involving victims of serious violence and sexual abuse, vulnerable children in care proceedings, immigration and asylum, and parties in complex commercial cases.
It said it was introducing the more generous allowance “to prevent delays to life-changing decisions in the courts”.
In a major review last year, to which the government yesterday gave its final response, the Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB) recommended High Court judges receive a 32% increase, taking their salaries to £240,000, and circuit judges 22%, bringing their annual pay to £165,000.
It argued district judges and equivalents should receive an 8% rise to bring their salaries to £117,000 and that all rises should be accompanied by improved working conditions.
The SSRB found just 2% of all judges in England and Wales felt valued.
The government said that while the temporary salary boost was less than the SSRB had recommended, it nevertheless struck “a balance between an appropriate investment of public funds and addressing serious recruitment and retention problems”.
In a statement, Lord Chancellor David Gauke said: “We have reached a critical point. There are too many vacancies and with the retirement of many judges looming; we must act now before we see a serious impact on our courts and tribunals.
“Judges are in a unique position and once they join the bench are not permitted to return to practice. Without the best legal minds in these seats, everyone that uses our courts will suffer, as will our international reputation.
“This temporary allowance, pending long-term pension scheme change, will enable us to continue to attract the brightest and best and prevent delays to potentially life-changing decisions.”