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THE HARD KNOCK LIFE: Judges claim huge salaries, wealth, power & air miles ‘not enough’, courts are difficult to work in & judicial reforms must be controlled – by judges

12 Feb

The tough life – being a judge. THEY FLY around the world in first class at great public expense on state visits to democracies & middle eastern dictatorships, give lectures on legal ‘ethics’ to willing ears & pockets, wander around Ferrari filled museums and have such vast wealth and connections to big business, crime & tax avoidance – they refuse to declare it.

However – according to the Judicial Attitude Survey Scotland 2014, judges feel their working conditions are becoming tougher, and that they are a touch unloved by government, the media and anyone who does not conform to the closed ivory tower world of justice and the courts.

The latest survey of opinions of the highest earning judiciary in the whole European Union – Scottish judges – portray a judiciary more akin to grumpy old men than their closeted, treasured reality of £130K to £220K a year salaries plus expenses, chauffeur driven cars, multi million pound property portfolios & Victorian mansions, million pound pension pots, influence beyond many boardroom directors, racking up air miles like Strategic Air Command, the occasional political meddling and of course, that ultimate judicial power over life, the universe, and well, everything.

Bitterly complaining about their financial circumstances, the report detailing the views of the judiciary states: It is clear that the key issue for almost all Scottish judges (80%) is the loss of net earnings they have suffered over the last 5 years, and that their pay and pension together do not adequately reflect their work (74%). In addition, over half of all judges (55%) do not feel they are paid a reasonable salary for the work they do.

While almost half (43%) said the changes to pension entitlements have affected them, three-quarters of judges (74%) say they accept that some changes to pension entitlements have to be made.

Judicial Attitude Survey Scotland 2014 Judges were asked the following: “Given the current economic situation, which of the following approaches to judicial pension entitlements would you accept as fair? “In response, over three-quarters (78%) of Judges felt that the fairest approach would be reductions only for new judges entering the judiciary.

Just over half of all judges (56%) feel their case workload over the last 12 months was manageable, but 42% felt it was too high, and there were no real differences between judicial posts

All judges were asked to assess the availability of four opportunities in their current judicial post. There was little in the way of opportunities that judges in Scotland rated much more than adequate. The overwhelming majority of judges reported that in their current post the following opportunities were either non-existent or poor:  opportunities for flexible working (83%) opportunities to sit in other jurisdictions (81%). A majority also said opportunities for career progression were either non-existent to poor (64%).

Morale in court came in for more criticism, as Judges were asked to rate five specific working conditions at their main court or tribunal.

Only the quality of administrative support and facilities for interaction with other judges were rated by a majority of judges as either good or excellent. Morale of court staff was rated lowest, with 74% saying it was either poor (40%) or adequate (34%).

Court resources came in for criticism – even after a recent £60m spend on Parliament house provoking M’luds to vent their disapproval on dodgy IT and internet access – in between air miles, holidays in Qatar and sniping at Holyrood committees.

Just over half of all judges in Scotland feel that library and books (53%) and the physical environment at court (51%) are good to excellent. Half (50%) feel IT support is good or excellent, but a third (32%) describe it as adequate or poor. The standard of IT equipment available in court is rated the lowest, with 43% saying it is poor and 38% saying it is adequate. Internet access is rated poor by 22% and adequate by 45%. A majority of judges (55%) rate the standard of personal IT equipment provided to them as adequate.

An overwhelming majority of judges who have been in post for at least 5 years (82%) feel that working conditions are worse now than they were 5 years ago.

While the Senators are divided in their view about working conditions compared with 5 years ago, almost all Sheriffs (88%) feel that working conditions are either significantly worse (37%) or worse (51%).

On being a judge, along with all the trappings of judicial office, the survey reports virtually all judges (98%) in Scotland feel they provide an important service to society, with 79% agreeing strongly with this view.

While most judges in Scotland have a strong personal attachment to being a member of the judiciary, this is less pronounced amongst Senators in the Inner House (67%) than those in the Outer House (100%) and Sheriffs (93%).

Over two thirds (67%) of all Scottish judges say that members of the judiciary are respected by society at large less than they were 10 years ago, with Sheriffs more likely to perceive a decline in respect (70%) than Senators (48%).

Judges feel most valued by their judicial colleagues at court (90%), court staff (88%), the legal profession (84%) and parties in cases before them (74%).

Half of all Scottish judges (50%) feel valued by the public, but very few (8%) feel valued by the government. Only 10% of the judges who replied to the survey felt they were valued by the Media.

Change is not a good thing in the eyes of judges – according to the survey. Responses from the judges made it clear they feel they must control any changes to the judiciary.

Judges were asked: What factors do you feel prompt changes that are imposed on the judiciary?

Almost all judges (91%) see government policy initiatives as driving change in the judiciary, followed by new legislation (74%) and public misunderstanding of the judiciary (66%). Just over half of all judges (56%) see media representation of judges as driving change.

Almost all judges (88%) feel their job has changed since they were appointed in ways that affect them. But while a majority of Sheriffs (52%) said the job had changed a large amount or completely, most Senators (73%) feel it has only been a limited change.

Almost all judges (84%) feel the judiciary needs control over changes affecting judges; 72% say some change is needed in the judiciary; and 60% believe too much change has been imposed on the judiciary in recent years.

There is no consensus on whether the judiciary manages change well, or whether the amount of change in recent years has brought judges to breaking point.

Almost all judges (91%) see government policy initiatives as the primary driver behind changes that are imposed on the judiciary, followed by new legislation (74%) and public misunderstanding of the judiciary (66%)

Money – the usual driver in everything from crime to justice features prominently in the minds of the judiciary.

Judges said they may consider leaving judicial positions if they do not get their own way on higher salaries.

A large proportion of the Scottish judiciary say they might consider leaving the judiciary early over the next 5 years. This is particularly marked for Senators in the Inner House, where almost three-quarters (71%) of judges who will not reach full retirement age in the next 5 years either might consider leaving early (57%) or are currently undecided (14%).

There are two main factors Scottish judges say would prompt them to leave the judiciary early: further limits on pay awards (70%) and reductions in pension benefits (70%). A majority (54%) would also be prompted to leave early by an increase in workload.

An overwhelming majority (88%) of judges said one key factor would help to keep them in the judiciary until they reach retirement age: higher remuneration.

Judges identified the main future challenges for the judiciary as: fiscal constraints (91%), reduction in support staff (84%), litigants in person (80%), attracting the best people to the judiciary (80%), judicial morale (79%) and loss of judicial independence (72%).

The survey did not contain any mention of proposals before the Scottish Parliament to create a register of judicial interests, as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary. On behalf of Scotland’s entire judiciary, top judge Lord Gill has bitterly resisted any calls to require judges to declare their significant wealth in a public register. The judge – who refused to give evidence at the Scottish Parliament over the matter has also resisted calls to make the judiciary more transparent and accountable, even freezing out independent oversight of complaints about judges.

The proposals to create a register of judicial interests – submitted to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in late 2012 envisages the creation of a single independently regulated register of interests containing information on judges backgrounds, their personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

Since January 2013, members of the Petitions Committee have looked at the issues raised in the petition, and took evidence from Scotland’s first Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) Moi Ali – who supports the petition. During evidence at the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee last September, Moi Ali told msps there was little transparency or accountability in Scotland’s judiciary.

Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations by Diary of Injustice including reports from the media, and video footage of debates at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee can be found here : A Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary

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