Former Law Association president Martin Daly SC stated yesterday certain constitutional principles have been undermined by the Judges Salaries and Pensions Amendment Bill.
The bill, which was passed in the House of Representatives last week Friday and goes before the Senate on Tuesday, makes radical upward changes to the way retirement benefits are computed. These changes are entirely novel to the way pensions are calculated in this jurisdiction.
Speaking to the Express, Daly said the first point he wanted to make was the position with retired judges “required urgent and critical redress”.
“Nevertheless, the purpose of the Salaries Review Commission (SRC) is to ensure that Parliament does not fix the salaries or terms and conditions of the judges. Because if Parliament does that, then the judiciary becomes beholden to the political executive. Constitutionally, that can’t
be proper,” he said.
“So what in effect happened here, whether for good reason or bad, the
Parliament has made a pre-emptive strike which affects the whole balance of the Constitution where the SRC and the judges are concerned,” Daly added.
“However sympathetic the case of the retired judges is, we do now have a problem of constitutional impropriety.”
Daly stressed “once more, we are having a kind of institutional failure because the SRC has clearly been slothful in not addressing the problem of the retired judges”.
He cited the case of late judge Ulric Cross, who was in receipt of a judicial pension of $3,500 at the time of his death. He said the SRC has not been “free of blame” in this matter because it has not acted in a timely manner.
On the issue of the legislators improving their own pension benefits in the same way as they have improved the benefits of judges, Daly said that was a “political” rather than
a “constitutional issue, even though the SRC fixes their (parliamentarians) terms and conditions as well”.
“If the legislators can make a political case to the public to get improved benefits, that is fine. But you don’t want judges lobbying the political directorate, saying, ‘You fixed us up five years ago, it is time to fix us again’. That just cannot work,” he said.
The SRC had promised in its 2009 report to do a job evaluation of all the offices under its jurisdiction.
Last week, Public Administration Minister Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan, in response to a question filed by Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley, disclosed the SRC was now in the process of selecting a consultant to do the job-evaluation exercise.
She said the evaluation exercise was expected to be completed by August 2015.
During the debate on the bills in the House of Representatives, it was revealed retired judges had made several approaches to both the Opposition People’s National Movement (PNM) and ruling People’s Partnership administration over the years to plead their case.
The pension of retired judges is indexed to the salaries they were earning at the time of their retirement. Some of these pensions have been greatly eroded by inflation over time and have led to former members of the judiciary experiencing hardship.
The Retired Judges Association welcomed the move, stating the Jud- ges Salaries and Pensions Amendment Bill was “long overdue”.
The association lauded the Government and Attorney General Anand Ramlogan for their “serious consideration to their pleas”.
“We have been struggling for almost 14 years,” the association stated, adding there had been “frustrations and disappointments” during that time.
The association also thanked Min-
ister Roodal Moonilal for his piloting of the measure and Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley for his support.