The controversial bill on judges’ pensions has been referred to a special select committee of the Senate.
Interestingly, the two Independent senators selected to serve on the committee are the ones who spoke in full favour of the proposed provisions—David Small and Dhanayshar Mahabir.
The committee, chaired by Leader of Government Business Ganga Singh, will also comprise members Emmanuel George, Fazal Karim, Kevin Ramnarine, Marlene Coudray and Opposition Senators Camille Robinson-Regis and Faris Al-Rawi.
The committee has just over three weeks to deliberate on the bill and submit a report to the Upper House by July 30.
The Senate debated the Judges Salaries and Pensions (Amendment) Bill, 2014, yesterday, with a number of Opposition Senators voicing their concerns over the provisions of the bill and the radical increases to the pension range for judges.
However, Small argued judges deserve to be properly compensated in this country.
While several of his colleagues on the Independent bench were of the view the Salaries Review Commission (SRC) should not be bypassed, Small argued the SRC failed in its job, and to send the issue of pensions back to it would be wasting more time.
He said people should not make comparisons and watch the increases proposed to the judges’ pensions and salaries.
“It concerns me when learned people put it out there and the public grab on to it,” he said.
“I personally do not necessarily have a problem with the quantum. I may have a challenge with the formula,” he added.
Small highlighted the monthly salaries in TT currency of chief justices and judges in other jurisdictions:
• The monthly salary of a chief justice in the United States Supreme Court was $136,000, while a district judge receives $106,000.
• In England the Lord Chief Justice receives $224,000 a month, while a High Court judge gets $165,000.
• In Australia, a chief justice takes home a $267,000 monthly salary, and a justice of the High Court receives $242,000.
• In Canada, a chief justice gets $193,000 and a regular justice receives $179,000.
Small said these countries, except the US, are all members of the Commonwealth and are all significant producers of oil and gas like this country.
“This is long overdue... I have heard a view that we should send it back to the SRC for them to treat with. I am sorry if in 15 years they haven’t done it, send it back to them for six years or a month or a year, nothing will happen,” said Small.
In wrapping up the debate, Singh again knocked the SRC for its failure to address the issue, saying its annual reports from the 45th to the 98th did not address the judges’ pensions.
He said the SRC had indicated this did not fall within its jurisdiction—dealing with matters related to a retired judge.
Singh said it was therefore a priority of the legislature to address the matter.
He said further the SRC did not state in any of its reports it was lacking or in need of resources to fulfil its duties.
“The SRC has demonstrated systematically that they are an institutional failure,” said Singh.
The Judges Salaries and Pensions (Amendment) Bill, 2014, and the Retiring Allowances (Legislative Service) (Amendment) Bill, 2014, were debated together and passed in the Lower House.
However, the Senate, through Independent Senator Elton Prescott, suggested the two bills be debated separately.
The first bill that relates to judges’ pensions and salaries was sent to a special committee. The second bill was being debated up to press time last night.