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200 judges claim discrimination over UK government’s planned pension cuts

Some 200 judges have taken the first step towards suing the UK government, claiming that changes to the judicial pension scheme that will cut the amount paid to those born after 1 April 1957 are discriminatory.

Under the New Judicial Pension Scheme (NJPS) – that was brought out in April this year – judges born after 1 April 1957 will be moved out of the current final salary scheme and placed into the new system that could see them receive a package worth up to two-thirds less than their fellow judges. NJPS will see High Court judges able to receive a career average pension of around £80,000 per year if they have served for 20 years or more.

The Lord Chancellor and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) have been accused in a claim issued last week of three counts of discrimination on age, gender and ethnicity grounds because the judges keeping the existing pension package are mainly male, white and older in age, while young and female judges and judges from minority ethnic backgrounds make up a higher proportion among those being forced to opt out.

Representing the 200 judges is personal injury, employment and human rights-focused firm Leigh Day, with employment and discrimination specialist Shubha Banerjee leading. ‘This is a case of discrimination because the younger judges have been asked to leave the pension scheme,’ she said. ‘There are a large number of female judges and judges from a black and minority ethnic background within this younger group.’

However, according to the MoJ, schemes like the ‘equal merit provision’ – which was launched last year – have improved the diversity of the judiciary. A MoJ spokesperson said: ‘We are committed to providing an affordable, flexible, sustainable and fair judicial pension scheme. The new scheme brings judicial pensions into line with other public services whilst ensuring judges still receive a good pension. Judges aged 55 and over have been given transitional protection as they have less time before retirement to make financial and lifestyle adjustments.’

Littleton Chambers’ Damian Brown QC commented: ‘Proportionally, there will be more white males in the legal profession that were born 1 April 1957. But the government has been trying to change pensions and move away from the final salary pension scheme for years. Whilst I wouldn’t be best pleased if it was happening to me, I can’t say I’m surprised.’

‘I think it is unlikely that they’re [the government] doing this to disadvantage women from ethnic minorities,’ added Edward Fitzgerald QC at Doughty Street Chambers. ‘I would have thought the real point is that it is objectionable to have a retrospective change, especially if you have signed up to a career and have been promised something. But if the indirect effect [of the new scheme] is discriminatory, then that too is objectionable.’