Wed | Mar 21, 2018

Battle of the 'Bench' - Furious judges give PM last chance to avoid court action over pay

Published:Sunday | June 11, 2017 | 12:00 AMBarbara Gayle
The judges are as serious as Justice Carol Lawrence-Beswick (centre), who was joined by Rion Hall (left), deputy custos of Kingston, and Patricia Dunwell, custos of St Andrew, in taking the salute during the opening of the Circuit Court in downtown Kingston, recently.

Peeved over the failure of the Government to pay them outstanding salaries and emoluments, the island's judges have written to Prime Minister Andrew Holness, demanding immediate action.

The Sunday Gleaner has learnt that in the letter to Holness, the judges warn that they will take legal action if steps are not taken to implement an agreement for the speedy payment of the outstanding amounts agreed to when they met with him and Governor General Sir Patrick Allen on April 6.

According to Sunday Gleaner sources, the judges have put together a crack team of lawyers to represent them in what they say is their fight to get justice.


Agreed to pool money


The sources say that during a recent lengthy meeting, the judges agreed to give the prime minister a chance to act and agreed to pool their money to pay their legal team if court action becomes necessary.

"We are very serious that if we do not get a favourable response from the prime minister and receive our overdue salary increase and emoluments speedily, that the suit will be filed," one of the judges is reported to have said. According to the judge, a number of colleagues have consented to be the claimants in the suit, which would be filed against the attorney general.

But a decision has not yet been made as to whether the suit will be filed in the Supreme Court or if they will go directly to the Judicial Committee of the United Kingdom Privy Council.

The judges last received an increase in 2014, but that was two years overdue. Since then, they have been waiting for an increase recommended by the independent commission, which reviews the salaries of judges.

"The Judiciary Act states that once every three years, a commission set up by the minister of finance must review and recommend salaries and emoluments for judges, but through the years, the Government has refused to follow the law," argued one judge.

The judge noted that the latest recommendation by the commission was given to the Ministry of Justice in December 2015, and in January 2016, the then Minister of Justice Mark Golding sent it to the Ministry of Finance, but to date, the recommendations for salary increases have not been honoured.

When the matter was last raised four months ago, Justice Minister Delroy Chuck said that he had presented the recommendations of the committee to Finance Minister Audley Shaw, and the matter would be discussed by the Cabinet.

Since then, the report of the three-member commission, which was chaired by Leighton McKnight and which included Minna Israel and Michele Robinson, has been tabled in Parliament.

The report recommends total increases for judges of $84.5 million, effective April 2015; a further $52.4 million, combined increases, effective April 2016; and a final increase totalling $58 million, effective April 2017.

The report was tabled in the House of Representatives on April 18, and the recommendations represent an approximately 19 per cent increase in the payment package for the judges for 2015, with the commission arguing that seven per cent of that amount was recommended for the years when the judges were not paid an increase.

The commission said that its recommendations were made while trying to establish a "critical balance between, on one hand, a compensation level that recognises the need for independence of the judiciary ... and the affordability and ability of the Government to pay."

The commission also renewed its proposal for a performance-management system for the judiciary, which could form an incentive scheme for judges.