Memorandum on behalf of the Justices of the District Court
There are 42 Justices of the District Court, consisting of:
Justices of the District Court are Judges within the meaning of Article 34 of the Constitution of 1937. They hold office by the same tenure as Judges of the Supreme and High Courts (Courts of Justice (District Court) Act, 1946, Section 20), and they have the same constitutional guarantees as such Judges, viz. of independence in the exercise of their judicial functions and non-reduction in remuneration during continuance in office (Articles 35 (2) and 35 (5) respectively of the Constitution).
The 42 Justices perform the duties of the former Resident (in Dublin, the Stipendiary) Magistrates and Justices of the Peace and also a large proportion of the duties of the former County Court Judges, in addition to the administration of a large, ever-growing and complex code of laws enacted during the past 28 years and reflecting the rapid social development of that period.
The Criminal Justice Act, 1951, has transferred from the Circuit to the District Court at least 80% of the criminal business of the former Court, resulting in an annual saving to the Exchequer of a considerable amount in respect of prosecution and witnesses’ expenses.
The enlargement of the District Court’s Civil jurisdiction contemplated by the Courts of Justice Bill, 1952, Section 15, will bring the Court still nearer to the position of the former County Court.
It can be justly claimed that the District Court has been a successful institution and that it commands the confidence of the people with whose lives and liberties it is so intimately associated. A measure of that confidence is to be found in the frequency with which the Oireachtas has added to the functions of the Court in the past 28 years.
The present annual salaries of the Justices are:
This scale of salaries represents an increase of 30% on the original scale fixed by the Courts of Justice Act, 1924, Section 74.
The increase was granted by the Courts of Justice Act, 1947, Section 8, consequent upon the rise in the cost of living between 1939 and 1947. That rise was one of 70% and the 30% increase in salaries only very partially compensated for it. The Justices’ financial position had progressively deteriorated during the years 1939 to 1947 and the relief granted in the latter year (being operative only from the 1st April of that year) did virtually nothing to relieve the majority of the Justices of the burden of debt which they had incurred during that period.
The cost of living continuing to rise after 1947, the Justices made representations for increase of salary in January, 1950, and again in August, 1951.
Their claim at the latter date was for an increase in the salaries of:
with retrospection to 15th January, 1951 (the date as from which other public servants had received their last increase in remuneration).
These proposed figures were, nominally, double the comparable salaries of £1,000, £1,100 and £1,200 fixed in 1924, but taking into account the depreciation in currency and the high level of National Taxation in 1951 as compared with 1924 they were not, in real purchasing power, as valuable as the earlier salaries.
Since August, 1951, when the claim was made, there has been a further steep rise (of 22 points) in the Cost of Living Index Figure and quite recently a Government spokesman has stated in Dáil Éireann that the present purchasing value of the pound compared with such value in 1939 is 8s. 11d.
The Justices, however, realise that, like every other section of the community, they must bear a share of the burden resulting from the combination of post-war currency inflation and shortage in material production.
Consequently, they do not propose to press their claim for increase in salary to its logical conclusion based on the present purchasing value of the pound. They merely repeat their claim of August, 1951, viz., for increase in the annual salaries of
£1,300 to £2,000
£1,430 to £2,200
£1,560 to £2,400
and they respectfully request the Select Committee favourably to consider this claim.
As to the retrospectivity of increase to be accorded them the Justices understand that objection exists to allowing retrospection to any time in 1951, and they are prepared, consequently, should their claim for increase in salary as above be allowed, to modify their claim for retrospection by substituting the 1st April, 1952, for the 15th January, 1951.
The Justices submit that the salaries which they now ask are reasonable by comparison with the maximum annual salaries at present paid to other legal employees of the State and to higher Civil Servants, particularly when it is remembered that such persons are now seeking further increases.
Examples of such salaries are:
The regulations governing the travelling expenses and subsistence allowances of Civil Servants have been applied to Justices.
The last comprehensive orders dealing with such expenses and allowances were made on the 30th July, 1947.
By virtue of amending orders dated respectively 5th September, 1949, and 28th April, 1950, the mileage rates for use of motor-cars were increased by ½d. and subsistence allowance was increased by 2s. per day.
On the 30th July, 1947, the price of petrol was 2s. 3d. per gallon and of motor oil 1s. 3d. per pint. The prices now are 3s. 6¼d. and 1s. 7d. respectively. The prices of tyres, tubes, batteries and all spare parts have increased considerably since 1947. Insurance premiums have increased by 25% and Road Tax by over 50%.
On the assumption that the mileage rates fixed by the Order of 30th July, 1947, were fair and reasonable at the time it is clear, having regard to the increased costs above referred to, that the increase of ½d. per mile granted in 1950 is now completely inadequate.
The capital outlay involved in the purchase of a new motor car has for some years past been so great that many Justices could not afford same and as a result they are still running cars which they should have disposed of a considerable time ago. This, naturally, involves them in heavy bills for repairs and maintenance.
The rates fixed by the orders mentioned are only paid in respect of the first 4,000 miles travelled in any one year. For any mileage in excess of that figure the rate is reduced to less than half of that for the first 4,000 miles.
This limitation is a severe hardship on the large majority of country Justices as they must cover a definite mileage each year in attending their courts and such mileage well exceeds the limitation of 4,000.
Metropolitan Justices do not qualify for Expense Allowances of any kind.
The subsistence allowance now payable in respect of absence from headquarters is 23s. 6d. per day, with pro rata allowances in respect of portions of a day. With hotel charges at their present high level the Justices find that the allowance leaves them very much out-of-pocket on normal use, whether for bed and board, or for meals only, of hotel accommodation.
On the basis of the foregoing facts it is respectfully submitted for the Select Committee’s consideration that:
(a) a substantial increase in the present mileage rates for the use of motor-cars be granted;
(b) such new rates as may be fixed shall apply to all mileage incurred on official duties;
(c) hotel expenses actually and reasonably incurred in the course of official duties be allowed.
A. Qualification for Pension.
The qualification for appointment as a Justice is six years’ practice as a barrister or solicitor (Courts of Justice Act, 1924, Section 69).
The retiring age is 65 years (Courts of Justice (District Court) Act, 1946, Section 15 (1)) except for four of the originally appointed Justices who by virtue of a saving provision in Section 15 (2) of the 1946 Act need not retire until the age of 70 years.
The Courts of Justice (District Court) Act, 1949, Section 2, provides machinery whereby a Justice who satisfies (annually) the Committee set up by the section that he is not suffering from any disability may be continued in office after the age of 65, by yearly warrants until he reaches the age of 70.
The Courts of Justice Act, 1936, Section 48, prescribes 30 years as the minimum period of service which will entitle a Justice to full pension.
Whilst the qualification for appointment as a Justice is six years practice as a barrister or solicitor, men are frequently appointed to the position at an age which renders it impossible for them to qualify for a full pension by the time of their retirement at the age of 65.
It has even occurred (twice in recent years) that a Justice has been appointed at an age which renders it impossible for him to qualify even for the minimum pension which the law at present provides.
The provision in the Act of 1949 for continuance in office till 70 is one of which the majority of Justices attaining the age of 65 years might not be able or anxious to take advantage.
Frequently, in the past, Justices have served in a temporary capacity before permanent appointment. Such temporary service does not count for pension purposes.
Judges of the Supreme and High Courts retire at the age of 72 and the Judges of the Circuit Court at 70. These Judges, however, qualify for full pension after fifteen years’ as compared with the thirty years’ service required of Justices.
In view of the foregoing facts there appear to be reasonable grounds for suggesting that the service period of 30 years is too long and that, in order to attract lawyers of experience to the District Court Bench, and to eliminate hardships which may fall to the lot of a number of existing appointees, the period should be shortened substantially.
Whilst it could be suggested that a reduction in the length of service required for full pension would result in the early retirement of a large number of the Justices originally appointed, with consequent heavy expense to the Exchequer, such an eventuality is more imaginary than real, for the very good reason that a man who has given a considerable length of his life to a specialised occupation and who stands to lose a large proportion of his income by retirement will not retire unless and until he is compelled to do so.
Furthermore, the fact exists that while many of the Supreme, High and Circuit Court Judges have served for fifteen years and longer, only one Judge took advantage, whilst still in good health, of the opportunity to retire on full pension before reaching the ultimate retirement age, and he had special reasons for doing so.
B. Amount of Pension.
The law governing the amount of Justices’ pensions has been varied twice since 1924.
The Statutes dealing with the matter are:
The effect of these statutory provisions is as follows:—
(1) A Justice who held office on 28th November, 1936, shall be entitled on his retirement to a gratuity and a pension calculated in accordance with the provisions of the Superannuation Acts 1834 to 1919 (in other words, to the same gratuity and pension as a Civil Servant of equal years’ service). Should such Justice die before retirement and without electing as hereinafter described, his Personal Representative shall be entitled to payment of an allowance calculated in relation to the Justice’s years of service but not exceeding a year’s full salary. Such Justice may at any time before he ceases to hold office elect to take in lieu of the above pension and gratuity or allowance rights the pension rights described in the next paragraph.
(2) A Justice appointed after 28th November, 1936, and resigning or vacating his office after completing thirty or more years’ service shall be entitled for his life to a pension amounting to two-thirds of his salary at the time he so resigns or vacates his office. If he vacates his office owing to age, incapacity or permanent infirmity after completing ten or more and less than thirty years’ service, he shall be entitled for his life to a pension calculated at the rate of one-sixth of his salary at the time he so vacated his office with the addition of one-fortieth of his said salary for every completed year of service in excess of ten such years.
There are, at present, 23 Justices who held office on 28th November, 1936, and 19 appointed after that date. The number in the first category will, of course, decrease whilst that in the second will increase as time passes.
The rapidly rising cost of living during the past ten years, unaccompanied by a corresponding increase in income, has rendered it impossible for Justices to make provision by saving for those of their dependents who may survive them. Even if granted the increases in salary which they seek they do not anticipate that their saving capacity will be strengthened as expenses are still mounting and, in any event, as already indicated, the increases asked are not sufficient to restore the salaries to their pre-war purchasing value.
A Justice appointed since 28th November, 1936, is in an even worse case than one appointed prior to that date as most of his service has been in the period of rising prices and neither he on retiral nor his dependents on his death before retiring age are, as the law stands, entitled to any gratuity or allowance.
Such a condition of affairs could lead to dissatisfaction and impair efficiency. It strikes at the independence which the Constitution requires the Judiciary to possess. It also renders it difficult to attract men of experience and ability in the legal profession to the Bench.
To rationalise the pension position of Justices, and bring it more into line with that of the other Judges and to obviate the serious difficulties outlined in the immediately preceding paragraphs, it is respectfully submitted for the consideration of the Select Committee that:—
(a) the period of service required to qualify a Justice for full pension (of two-thirds annual salary) be twenty and not thirty years as at present and that the proportion of full pension payable to a Justice vacating his office before the completion of twenty years’ service owing to age, incapacity or permanent infirmity be calculated accordingly;
(b) service in a temporary capacity within five years of permanent appointment be counted as service for pension purposes; and
(c) provision be made on the lines adopted for Judges and Magistrates in Great Britain in 1950 by the Administration of Justice (Pensions) Act of that year (14 & 15 Geo. 6, Ch. 11) for a contributory system of pensions for widows and dependent children of Justices, with a saving of the existing pension rights of Justices who held office on 28th November, 1936.
As the memorandum is already of considerable length it is not proposed to incorporate in it details of the scheme embodied in the British Act of 1950.
Should the Select Committee, however, be favourably disposed to consideration of such a pension scheme, the writer will, if required, supply a summary thereof.
It is desired to point out that representations have not, in recent years been made by the Justices on the matter of pensions as the more pressing problems of salary increase occupied their attention and they feared that to introduce the question of pensions might slow down or complicate the salary issue.
As the subject of pensions is within the terms of reference of the Select Committee the Justices feel that they should now raise it and that they may do so without the risk referred to in the previous paragraph.