MoJ to increase judges’ pay by twice the amount it offered

Judges: Quality of appointments falling

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has accepted a recommendation that judges receive a pay rise of 7% this year to combat recruitment problems, twice what the government said it could afford.

The Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB) also expressed concern that fee-paid roles were more attractive than salaried posts.

The SSRB reviews and recommends salaries annually for judges, senior civil servants, senior officers of the Armed Forces, senior NHS managers, police and crime commissioners and chief police officers.

Its report said the judiciary was the only group to show “persistent evidence of recruitment shortfalls”, particularly at district and circuit judge level, with the situation of the former continuing to worsen.

The ‘quality’ of applicants, as judged by the Judicial Appointments Commission’s ratings of candidates selected for appointment, has fallen over the long term for both the district and circuit benches, it went on.

“While we recognise the limitations of these ratings, the size of the changes is, we believe, significant enough to be a concern. Only a decade ago, quality ratings of appointed applicants were much higher. This is as much a concern to us as is the shortfall in numbers.”

That the judiciary was the only one of the SSRB’s remit groups to require recruitment from an external labour market was also linked to the recruitment problems.

While recognising the efforts to boost recruitment and diversity, the SSRB said it had “growing concerns about the relative attractiveness of fee-paid judicial roles compared to salaried ones”, with fee-paid roles not seeing the same recruitment shortfalls.

It explained: “The legally required equalisation of pay and pensions for fee-paid judges, the availability of various allowances which their salaried counterparts do not receive, and the greater administrative load and burden of more complex and difficult cases carried out by salaried judges all enhance the relative attractiveness of fee-paid roles…

“The relative attractiveness of fee-paid roles is further increased when some fee-paid judges can, in practice, work as many days as they wish because of vacancies in the salaried judiciary.

“Filling the vacancies in the salaried judiciary is necessary not only in its own right but also to reset the incentives for fee-paid judges to apply for salaried posts.”

The MoJ’s evidence – provided while Dominic Raab was Lord Chancellor – was that it only had funding available for a pay award of 3.5%, with anything above that level requiring “further trade-offs in the MoJ’s budgets, efficiencies in delivery, wider trade-offs for public service delivery or risk the fight against inflation through further government borrowing”.

The SSRB said the “significant investment” the MoJ has made in improving judicial pensions has made a difference “but it is not the whole solution”.

It rejected the MoJ’s contention that the full effect of the pension change had yet to occur, saying it had already been “priced in” by potential applicants.

“Moreover, since the changes in the Budget to the pension annual allowance and, especially with the lifting entirely of lifetime allowance charges for everyone, the judicial pension scheme has lost some of its relative attractiveness.”

The SSRB said both a meaningful pay award and more investment into non-pay factors – such as working conditions and particularly improving the court estate – were needed to solve the recruitment problems.

“While we understand concerns about affordability, our judgement is that a pay award larger than 3.5% is needed to begin to address both shortfalls and the long-term decline in quality ratings.

“We are mindful of the decline of nearly a fifth in the real total net remuneration of UK judges in the past decade, the current level of annual pay settlements generally, and the rate of inflation over the past year.

“While we know the legal labour market is very heterogenous, we have seen some evidence that the median incomes of private legal practitioners have not seen such a decline.”

The SSRB said a 7% increase would cost £33m, £17m more than the MoJ’s proposed 3.5% award.

“We consider this a reasonable cost to attempt to fill more judicial vacancies and to tackle the court backlog.”

It also expressed disappointment that last year the MoJ rejected its recommendation of a 3.5% pay increase for judges, awarding 3% instead.

The pay recommendation for judges was the highest of all the groups covered by the SSRB.

In a statement yesterday, Lord Chancellor Alex Chalk said he was accepting it.

“The award will help address judicial recruitment shortfalls, and I have considered affordability and the government’s priority to halve inflation alongside the need for ongoing investment into improving the wider criminal justice system.

“This increase demonstrates the value the government places on our independent judiciary and their crucial role as we continue to deliver court reform and tackle the outstanding caseload.”

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