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Lord Hamilton tells Holyrood £200K salaries for judges are not enough, attacks party litigants for clogging up courts system while praising lawyers for court role

03 Nov

Lord HamiltonScotland’s Lord President, Lord Hamilton feels judges should not be subject to a wage freeze. LORD HAMILTON, Scotland’s Lord President who recently announced he is retiring in the summer of 2012 told the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee earlier this week that judges salaries are currently so low (from £128,296 for Sheriffs rising to £214,000 for the Lord President himself) the breadline rates of pay are inhibiting recruitment of what the Lord President described as the “best people” from the legal profession to join the bench.

As if the ‘low pay’ of up to £3,800 a week, the lack of accountability to external regulation, and lack of a register of interests were already making life difficult for judges, Lord Hamilton also rounded on unrepresented party litigants for taking up too much time of judges & courts while praising lawyers for being focussed on the legal issues of cases rather than the realities of the situations party litigants find themselves in, often at the hands of the legal profession, public services or vested interests who are all well represented in the courts and in some of the judiciary’s own personal finances, business dealings & relationships.

The judge’s remarks came at a meeting to discuss the Scottish Government’s latest budget and spending review, where like all other public services, the justice system will be expected to bear some of the large public funding cuts caused by the recession and the UK’s multi billion bailout of the banks. The Lord President went onto tell msps the lack of ‘suitable candidates’ for judicial posts, which Lord Hamilton put down to lack of a decent six figure salary & a gold plated guaranteed pension most of the country and the rest of Europe can now only dream of, has already had an impact on Scotland’s justice system where courts are now functioning with a reduced number of judges, the High Court in Scotland already operating with one judge short.

Please Ma’am, can we have some more (Gasp) : Lord Hamilton says there should be more pay & no wage freeze on judges, who earn up to £200K a year (Click image or HERE to watch video)

Asked whether there are concerns about the small rise of salaries for judges, Lord Hamilton said it does concern the judges at all levels. The Lord President said while salaries are determined at a UK level, the senior salaries review board has done a number of reviews and on each occasion recommended increases in judicial salaries just to keep up with inflation. However, as none of the review’s recommendations on raising judicial salaries have been implemented, Lord Hamilton said judges are in real terms being remunerated significantly less than they were five or seven years ago. Along with the pay freeze is the provision of pension provisions which the UK Parliament is currently considering, raising concerns from the judiciary about their pensions, and in turn, giving rise to problems in attracting the “best people” to judicial posts,.

Lord Hamilton said : “One of the problems that we had last year was that there was a competition. But the board (referring to the Judicial Appointments Board), having interviewed some of these persons, found that none of those who applied were suitable for appointment. So we’ve been in a situation where we have been running one judge short for the last year or so.”

The issue of the wages freeze on the judiciary was covered at length in The Herald newspaper, their report can be read here : Fears judges’ pay freeze deterring top candidates and Diary of Injustice has previously reported on the expenses claims of Scotland’s judiciary after FOI requests saw their full publication, here : Expenses claims of Scotland’s Judiciary

I doubt any arguments to increase the already huge salaries of the judiciary will gain much sympathy from the rest of the country in these tough financial times, however now the Lord President has raised the issue, it will be interest to see what happens next … perhaps a small little-publicised judicial salary increase, or perhaps as with politicians, the judges will be allowed to claim a little more, and then a little more again on expenses.

Whatever the outcome, if judges are so poor while being paid so much, it is certainly worth bearing in mind members of the judiciary have currently exempted themselves from any register of financial & non financial interests which most public officials are now expected or even required by law to comply with. A campaign to require the judiciary to declare their financial & non financial interests was started by Diary of Injustice in an earlier article here : JUDGE OUR JUDGES : Petition seeks ‘judicial transparency’, asks Westminster require judiciary to ‘declare all’ to a Register of Interests with a petition to the Scottish Parliament still under discussion with Holyrood officials.

The meeting between the head of Scotland’s judiciary along with the Chief Executive of the Scottish Court Service and the members of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee heard concerns on many other issues such as the reforms proposed by the Lord Justice Clerk Lord Gill’s CIVIL COURTS REVIEW, most of which has not been implemented by the current Scottish Government, who are now engaged on ‘a review of the review’.

Lord Hamilton also managed some barbed attacks against party litigants, expressing his concerns about how the growing numbers of party litigants in Scotland’s courts were apparently taking too much of the judiciary’s time on cases. However readers will by now be well aware the time party litigants take in court could be greatly reduced if the judiciary had reacted more positively towards the issue of lay assistance for party litigants in Scottish courts rather than implementing bans on remunerating lay assistants and discouraging a lay assistant knowledge base & service from forming in Scotland for unrepresented court users.

MSPs question Lord Hamilton over increasing numbers of party litigants in Scotland’s Courts due to lack of legal aid & inability to fund legal representation (Click image or HERE to watch video)

On the subject of party litigants, Christine Grahame MSP, who is serving a second term as the Justice Committee’s Convener, asked the Lord President whether he thought the changes in legal aid & economic circumstances for people there many be more party litigants appearing in Scottish courts.

Lord Hamilton replied there were increasing numbers of party litigants in the courts, and said there is a real risk there will be more people who will not be able to get legal aid and therefore more people who will bring cases but who will have no means obtaining representation for these cases.

More people as party litigants in civil courts also means a problem for the fair despatch of the business itself because, the Lord President claimed : “Whatever people may think about lawyers on the whole lawyers are able to concentrate on what the legal issues are in the litigation and lay people are very often unable to see the wood from the trees the relevant from the irrelevant”.

Lord Hamilton further commented that in many cases with party litigants “there is are a mass of complaints being made” which required more judicial application, time & resources to find the nugget to address the problems.

Christine Grahame asked has anyone costed a case presented by a party litigant with the additional costs to the justice system. Lord Hamilton replied he didn’t think so and said it would be a difficult exercise to carry out.

The full forty eight minute session of evidence from Lord Hamilton & Eleanor Emberson to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee can be viewed below :

Lord Hamilton gives evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee on budget cuts in the justice system & more (Click image or HERE to watch video, 48mins)

Clearly little changes in the Scottish justice system, where it could well be argued after watching Tuesday’s Justice Committee meeting, prejudice against party litigants & favouritism for the legal profession & vested interests is still well in play with the judiciary, no matter how many Civil Courts Reviews are undertaken and promises of reform continually made & broken.

BACKGROUND TO BROKEN PROMISE OF CIVIL JUSTICE REFORM IN SCOTLAND

Lord Gill Lord Justice ClerkThe Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill, author of the Civil Courts Review. The Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill, in his speech to the Law Society of Scotland’s 60 year anniversary conference last year, reproduced in full here said : “The civil justice system in Scotland is a Victorian model that had survived by means of periodic piecemeal reforms. But in substance its structure and procedures are those of a century and a half ago. It is failing the litigant and it is failing society. It is essential that we should have a system that has disputes resolved at a judicial level that is appropriate to their degree of importance and that disputes should be dealt with expeditiously and efficiently and without unnecessary or unreasonable cost. That means that the judicial structure should be based on a proper hierarchy of courts and that the procedures should be appropriate to the nature and the importance of the case, in terms of time and cost. Scottish civil justice fails on all of these counts. Its delays are notorious. It costs deter litigants whose claims may be well-founded. Its procedures cause frustration and obstruct rather than facilitate the achievement of justice.”

Against the background of Lord Gill’s criticisms of Scotland’s “Victorian” civil justice system, in which some cases continue to be heard by judges some fifteen years after they first entered the court system, the current Scottish Government have a poor track record of responding to the many recommendations contained in Lord Gill’s 2009 Civil Courts Review, as I have previously reported, here : Civil Courts Review one year on : Scotland’s out-of-reach justice system remains Victorian, untrustworthy and still controlled by vested interests & here : Scottish Government’s response to Civil Courts Review : Class Actions, more cases to Sheriff Courts, & faster, easier access to justice ‘over years’.

Readers can download the Civil Courts Review report in pdf format, from the Scottish Courts Website at the following links : Volume 1 Chapter 1 – 9 (Covers McKenzie Friends, procedures, advice etc, 2.99Mb) Volume 2 Chapter 10 – 15 (Covers mainly the issue of Class (multi party) actions etc, 2.16Mb) Synopsis (215Kb)

My coverage of the Civil Courts Review from its publication to the present, and the pace of reforms to civil justice in Scotland can be found here : Civil Courts Review – The story so far

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