Government set to raise judicial retirement age

Buckland: The time is now right to consider this issue

The mandatory retirement age (MRA) for judges looks set to be increased by either two or five years in order to deal with shortfalls in judicial recruitment, under government plans unveiled yesterday.

The consultation issued by the Ministry of Justice does not include retaining the current MRA of 70, which was fixed in 1993, as an option.

The ministry said a greater proportion of judicial recruitment exercises have resulted in shortfalls over recent year, while life expectancy has increased and people tended to work longer too since 1993.

A review of the judges’ pay structure by the Senior Salaries Review Body in 2018 concluded they would stay longer if there was a higher MRA and that the current retirement age might discourage some people from applying in the first place.

The government also proposed that magistrates’ MRA be extended in line with that of judges.

There are 3,210 salaried and fee-paid court judges in England and Wales, along with 1,854 tribunal judges and 3,121 non-legal tribunal members. There are 14,348 magistrates.

Around 1,000 posts are available each year, but there has been difficulty filling the vacancies on the High Court, circuit and district benches, as well as in the magistrates’ court.

The ministry calculated that, if the MRA was raised to 72, about 245 judges – ie, nearly a quarter of the current recruitment programme – would be retained each year, and 399 if it was 75. The figures were significantly larger for magistrates.

The government acknowledged that the MRA promoted diversity by increasing the flow of new appointments, as well as protecting the independence of judges. However, the changes were necessary for resourcing reasons, it said.

The consultation also seeks views on whether to retain the policy of permitting judicial appointments below the High Court to be extended on an annual basis until the age of 75 where there is a public interest.

It suggests this may be appropriate if the MRA is set at 72 and asks whether the policy should apply to the higher courts.

Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland said: “The retirement age for most judges was last legislated for 27 years ago, and the time is now right to consider whether the age of 70 continues to achieve its objective of balancing the requirement for sufficient judicial expertise to meet the demands on our courts and tribunals whilst safeguarding improvements in judicial diversity and protecting the independence of and confidence in our judiciary.

“As Lord Chancellor, I have a duty to provide resources for the effective operation of our courts and tribunals.”

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