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The representative body for judges in Ireland warned the Government it could be engaging in gender discrimination if it does not restore judges’ salaries to pre-recession levels as many new judges were women.
The president of the Association of Judges in Ireland, Mr Justice George Birmingham, wrote to the government in 2015 complaining about cuts to judicial salaries and pensions imposed during the recession.
In one letter to then minister for justice Frances Fitzgerald in February 2015, he said many judges were “struggling to cope” under the new pay structure, a claim the association repeated in 2017.
The letters were part of a lobbying drive by judges for the restoration of their previous salaries which were cut by up to 31 per cent during the financial crisis.
Under the financial emergency measures, new appointees to the bench were on lower salaries again. For example, new High Court judges received €168,481 a year compared to a salary of €186,973 for judges appointed before 2011.
Noting many recent judicial appointments were female, Mr Justice Birmingham told the minister “maintaining the present distinctions may well be giving rise to indirect gender discrimination”.
Women currently make up 36 per cent of the judiciary compared to 13 per cent 20 years ago.
He said situations which saw teachers and healthcare workers paid different rates were being addressed, and “the failure to do so for judges appointed since 2011 is anomalous and, indeed, invidious”.
The lower pay rates for new judges were partially reversed last year when the law was changed to allow new appointees to move on to the higher salary after two years on the bench.
Mr Justice Birmingham said the judiciary had seen “swinging cuts” to their salaries and pension entitlements.
He said judges were aware other more vulnerable sectors of society also felt the effects of the recession, but “that said...the impact on the judiciary has been very severe indeed, and many members of the association have struggled to cope”.
He said many lawyers opted to become judges on the assumption their salaries would be constitutionally protected. Many of these “will have responsibilities entered into at an earlier stage of their career”, Mr Justice Birmingham wrote.
He also urged the government to implement recommendations from the Council of Europe’s Group of States Against Corruption that an independent body should be established to regulate judges’ pay.