THE VICTORIAN Government’s apparent confidence in its judges and magistrates, after they won a pay rise that will bring them in line with their federal colleagues, was in fact questionable, argued the State’s peak judicial body.
The Victorian Bar Council welcomed the pay rise, but the increase was “half good, half bad”, and “the right thing to do would have been to follow the recommendations made last month by the Judicial Remuneration Tribunal and give judges a pay increase immediately, not over four years”, said Victorian Bar Council chairman Robin Brett QC.
Attorney-General Rob Hulls said last week he would introduce legislation to phase in the salary parity by the 2007-2008 financial year. On Wednesday he moved that the Bill be read; the debate, however, was adjourned until 26 May.
The Judicial Salaries Bill was introduced to remove the function of the Judicial Remuneration Tribunal to make determinations in relation to the salaries and allowances of judges and magistrates. It came as a result of the Government’s rejection last month of the Tribunal’s determination in relation to judicial salaries which would have resulted in a 13.6 per cent pay rise for judges and magistrates.
At the time, the rejection prompted outrage from the judiciary, which claimed the decision would make judges and magistrates in Victoria the lowest paid in Australia.
The Government believed that the Tribunal’s determinations were beyond community expectations, Hulls said. This was the explanation for the Government’s motion in state parliament to disallow the Judicial Remuneration Tribunal’s determination.
But the Government said it also believed judges deserved appropriate remuneration, which was its reasoning for legislating to allow for the phasing in of salary parity over the next four years.“Federal linkage will ensure that judicial salaries are commensurate with the status and responsibility of judicial office, and ensure we continue to attract suitable candidates to judicial office, particularly in the higher jurisdictions,” Hulls said.
Any system of judicial remuneration would also have to give careful regard to the principles of judicial independence, he said.
The new structure will be phased in over four years. At the end of that period the salaries of Victorian Supreme Court judges will be linked to those of the Federal Court.
The Victorian Bar Council welcomed the pay increase for judges and magistrates. “We’re very glad judges will eventually be paid what their federal counterparts are paid,” said Brett. But it was a pity, he said, that it was going to take so long for judges and magistrates to actually see this increase.
Going on statements he had received, Brett said it appeared that judges and magistrates would receive an immediate 3 per cent pay rise. They will receive a further 3 per cent in the next financial year, and then a series of increases bringing them to parity with their federal counterparts, he said.
But the Government should have implemented the initial recommendation by the Tribunal, Brett said. This would have seen an immediate pay rise of over 13 per cent and that would have been appropriate, he suggested.
In an interview with Lawyers Weekly a month ago, Brett said the Victorian Bar Council was “very disappointed” that the Government had rejected the pay rise recommendation. He said this was effectively the Government saying it would be happy for Victorian judges to be paid less than their colleagues in other states. Also, the Government had expressed a “lack of confidence in Victorian courts as well as the state’s judges”.
Last week, Brett said this was still true to an extent. Although it appeared to show confidence, he said the right thing to do would have been to follow the Tribunal’s recommendations.