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High Court judges’ pay rises rejected despite recruitment levels falling

Despite warnings of poor morale at the judiciary coupled with flailing levels of recruitment, the Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB) has rejected a higher pay rise for more senior judges, saying any differential would be ‘divisive’ and de-motivate other judges.

The Lord Chancellor Michael Gove (pictured) and the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, had advocated for a 3% hike in pay for High Court judges, with a 1% rise for more junior judges.

However in the SSRB’s 38th annual report on senior salaries published last Thursday (21 April), the annual salary of a High Court judge has risen by only 1%.

According to the report, High Court judges will receive £179,768, while a circuit judge can earn £133,506, and a district judge can take home £103,950. As head of the judiciary, the Lord Chief Justice earns £249,583.

The Ministry of Justice called for the hike in January when the government’s deputy director of judicial policy, pay and pensions directorate Helen Whitehouse said the evidence available suggested there was an ’emerging problem with recruitment and retention of High Court judges. This proposal aims to mitigate this risk by awarding this group an additional uplift in pay.’

This recent decision by the SSRB comes as the bench faces problems over recruitment of high calibre candidates to the High Court. Applications to the bench have fallen to 73 applications in 2014/15, down from 90 in 2010/11; and 144 in 2007/08.

Former University of Westminster professor John Flood, who is now at Griffith University School of Law in Australia told Legal Business: ‘The incentives to become a judge have reduced… they’ve regressed. Succession planning at the commercial Bar needs attention and whether it gets that I’m not sure.’

Travers Smith disputes head Stephen Paget-Brown said changes which have happened over the last few years are going to mean fewer top quality people will pursue a career at the bench. ‘There’s a risk in the future some people who would in the past have wanted to do that would decide not to. There’s a disparity between what the top QC can earn and a judge. People are living longer – they need enough of a fund to see them through.

He added: ‘I know judges earn a hell of a lot by everyday standards, but you have to compare it to not what the man on the street gets but what they are getting as a top barrister.’