08:27, February 09 373 0 theguardian.com

2017-02-09 08:27:19
Survey reveals UK judges' concerns over pay and safety

Almost half of all high court judges plan to leave the bench early, according to a survey that exposes widespread resentment among the judiciary over loss of earnings, deteriorating working conditions and fears for their personal safety in court.

While almost all judges believe they provide an important service to society and are committed to their roles, morale has declined sharply since the last survey was conducted.

The latest Judicial Attitudes Survey, conducted in the summer of 2016, found that 42% of all judges would leave if they had a viable alternative option, compared with 23% in the previous survey in 2014.

More than a third (36%) of salaried judges said they may consider leaving the judiciary early over the next five years. This included 47% of high court judges, 41% of court of appeal judges and 40% of crown court judges.

That judges feel poorly rewarded despite earning substantial salaries is no surprise. Because they can earn high fees in private practice, transferring to the bench has always been a matter of swapping lucrative potential for public service and income security.

Last month an employment tribunal ruled in favour of more than 200 judges whose pension entitlements had been cut, declaring that they had been unfairly discriminated against.

A high court judge earns around £180,000 a year, and a crown court judge £134,000. There was a four-year freeze in judicial pay from 2009 to 2013, followed by three years of increases of 1% per annum.

An overwhelming majority (78%) of salaried judges surveyed said they had experienced a loss of net earnings over the past two years, 62% said they had been affected by pension changes and 74% felt their earnings “do not adequately reflect the work they have done”.

Nearly two-thirds of the judges said their salary and reductions in pension rights were directly related to their sense of low morale.

The latest survey, coordinated by Prof Cheryl Thomas, co-director of the Judicial Institute at University College London, was carried out to assist the Senior Salaries Review Body, which makes recommendations to the government annually on pay. As many as 99% of all salaried judges in England and Wales courts and UK non-devolved tribunals took part.

Most judges felt valued by their colleagues on the bench but fewer than half (43%) felt appreciated by the public and virtually none felt esteemed by the media (3%) or by the government (2%). The survey was completed before the Daily Mail’s notorious “Enemies of the People” headline after the high court’s Brexit judgment last November.

Other areas of concern highlighted by the survey included poor physical quality of court buildings (31%) and low morale of court staff (64%).

A narrow majority of judges (51%) reported concerns for their personal safety while in court. Cuts to legal aid have resulted in far fewer lawyers being present, particularly in family courts, where judges often find themselves alone in rooms with feuding ex-partners attempting to resolve emotive child custody disputes.

The same proportion said the amount of out-of-hours work was affecting them, up significantly from 29% in 2014.

The lord chief justice, Lord Thomas, and the senior president of tribunals, Sir Ernest Ryder, said: “The quality of the judiciary underpins the rule of law and the continued success of our legal services market nationally and internationally.

“We are therefore extremely grateful to those who took part in the survey, which assists the SSRB in making evidence-based recommendations to government on judicial pay. In the light of the substantially greater remuneration available to the most able practitioners in private practice, these matters are vital to our ability to attract candidates and retain judges of the highest calibre.”