Long overdue

CLASSIFYING the pending increase in the salaries of high court judges as “welcome news”, two veteran attorneys from the private bar say it is hoped that senior counsel who have in the past refused to serve as judges because of the poor salaries will now be more motivated to do so.

“The announcement in terms of increased remuneration is welcome news by any measure. It has long been my position where we don’t seem to have the full appreciation of the legal talent that we have insofar as our judges are concerned; we don’t seem to have an appreciation of that and that is oftentimes far more appreciated in other Caribbean territories,” noted attorney Peter Champagnie, King’s Counsel, told the Jamaica Observer on Wednesday.

He was speaking in the wake of Tuesday’s indications by Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke that the judges are set to see their salaries increase significantly as of this month, as the finance ministry has accepted the recommendation from the 10th Independent Commission of the Judiciary.

The commission in a comparative analysis of the compensation of members of the judiciary across the region said Jamaica “remains at the lowest tier of judicial compensation when compared to its regional counterparts”. In highlighting the salaries paid to judges in the Cayman Islands as an example, the committee said while Cayman might be seen as an outlier given that is a United Kingdom overseas territory, it is, given its location, “a real lure to judges”.

The latest recommendation will see Jamaica’s chief justice’s salary jumping to $28.8 million per annum, inclusive of all allowances, except for security and housing. The salary of a senior puisne judge will rise to $21.9 million per annum, while puisne judges will get $20.8 million. The president of the Court of Appeal’s compensation will increase to $26.2 million, while a judge of the Court of Appeal will now get $23.8 million.

Judges’ emoluments are reviewed in three-year cycles, with the current review relating to the period 2021/22 to 2023/24, following the last salary increase judges got in 2020/21.

The recommendation was that for the first year — 2021/22 — judges should get a six per cent increase in salaries in line with that offered to public sector workers at the time.

At that time the salaries of judges stood at between $9 million and $11.6 million per annum. The recommendation for the following year was a salary ranging from $18.3 million for puisne judges at the low end to $25.3 million for the chief justice at the high end. The final adjustments for the three-year cycle takes the salaries to between $20.9 million and $28.8 million.

“This is something that is welcome and I think it is important to emphasise that the role of a judge in and of itself requires so much of you. I would imagine because you are expected to not only be abreast of the law but to conduct yourself in a particular way where very often it is a lonely position,” Champagnie said on Tuesday.

“Hopefully, it will also attract perhaps senior practitioners from the private bar who oftentimes put as an excuse that they are not inclined to give public service because of the poor remuneration; so this is another way that this situation could be looked at. All in all, it goes well for the justice system,” he said further.

Noting the plans to have the committee evaluate and recommend next salary increases for parish judges he said, “I would expect as a corollary to this then other posts would also, in terms of salary scale, be adjusted and that would make sense.”

Senior attorney Anthony Williams, a managing partner at Usim, Williams and Company Co Attorneys-at-Law, said, “the increase is very well warranted and should have been given to the judges a long time ago.”

“When I look at the extent of the percentage granted to the judges I think it must be commensurate with their skill, competence, experience and their position in the judiciary and I can tell you that if we are not competitive as a nation, it means other Caribbean territories may very well be more attractive to our judges,” Williams told the Observer.

He also said the increases announced will “serve as an enticement for members of the private bar who may have some aspirations to be members of the judiciary to leave the private bar”.

Furthermore, he said it will insulate judges against falling into poverty after serving.

“One of the things that affect our judges is that once they retire they cannot practice law or be consultants in any sector, so it’s one way of compensation and I believe the salary they were getting initially was woefully inadequate. When you have a better salary it will motivate and energise members of the judiciary to work harder, it will certainly enhance their idiosyncrasy, meaning their love and affection and taste for the law,” Williams said.

“There is no doubt it is an attractive salary [increase]. The chief justice works very hard, the president of the Court of Appeal is no exception and both the judges of the high court and the Court of Appeal. I believe the time has come and it was long overdue,” he added.