Labour torpedoes judicial reform bid
Court reform hits snag
A long-sought agreement with the judiciary which is meant to enter into force tomorrow is in the balance as the Labour Opposition signalled its disagreement at the eleventh hour.
Labour’s parliamentary group decided it would back a proposal to increase the retirement age of sitting judges and magistrates from 65 to 68 years but will oppose the other parts of the package, which includes a €12,000 increase in allowances over the next three years and a new retirement pension system.
The decision follows a meeting of its parliamentary group last week in which the draft agreement between the Government and the judiciary was discussed.
“We think the current economic scenario does not permit an increase in the salaries and allowances for the judiciary, even though they might deserve one,” Labour’s justice spokesman Jose Herrera told The Sunday Times.
“We opposed an increase in the salaries of MPs and ministers over the past years for the same reason and we will be consistent even with regards to the judiciary,” he said.
Insisting this was the official collective position of Labour’s parliamentary group, Dr Herrera said his party would, however, support the proposal in Parliament to raise the retirement age for members of the bench.
Dr Herrera said there were various reasons to support a longer working-life for the judiciary, particularly to attract senior lawyers to the post and to avoid situations where judges about to retire asked for government appointments after ending their career at 65.
The reform package, intended to revamp the much-criticised court service, provided the judiciary with increases and better conditions in return for an improved service, including the introduction of a diary system where all cases are to be heard by appointments, the holding of afternoon sittings and a reform in the Commission for the Administration for Justice.
The Government was still due to start discussions with the Opposition on the commission as it needs its consensus on any changes.
According to Dr Herrera, the Opposition would prefer to start the discussion on the reform of the commission first and then discuss increases in the financial package.
“We have nothing against the judiciary but we want to see more accountability,” Dr Herrera, a seasoned lawyer, insisted.
Although the Government can still go ahead with the agreement concluded with representatives of the judiciary, as increases in salaries and allowances do not need the support of the Opposition in Parliament, observers pointed out that it will be difficult for the Government to continue with its plans.
“Like any agreement this was a give-and-take exercise. It’s difficult to pick and choose,” a senior lawyer told this newspaper.
A former judge said the fact that the Government is entering the last part of its legislature unsure of the support of all its MPs may have tilted the Opposition’s position towards torpedoing the agreement.
“On the other hand, it was a tactical mistake on the Government’s side to agree to a financial increase without getting commitments on concrete reforms in the Commission for the Administration of Justice and more accountability,” another lawyer said.
Currently, judges receive annual remuneration of around €50,000 and magistrates earn €44,000, apart from allowances which include a chauffeur-driven car for their family’s use.