...Former judge defends pension hikes
There has been no breach of the separation of powers principle with the Judges Salaries and Pensions Amendment bill, president of the Association of Retired Judges, Zainool Hosein, stated on Saturday.
He was responding to statements by Martin Daly, SC, that the Salaries Review Commission was established to deal with judges terms and conditions and that the bill created a situation of “constitutional impropriety” where the Executive was fixing the pension arrangements of the higher judiciary.
But Hosein did not agree with this. “We are no longer in office. The pension is only payable to past office-holders and therefore the separation of powers is not an issue,” he said.
Hosein said in respect of the retired judges that SRC has consistently taken the position that the pension, of retired judges do not fall within their jurisdiction. “They took the view that that matter must be dealt with by Parliament,” he said. “Now it has been dealt with by Parliament, by both Government and Opposition (which agreed to it), and I am a little surprised that on a matter in which they (SRC) claim no jurisdiction they are reportedly expressing concerns,” he added.
Hosein said Daly and others conceded that the situation with retired judges needed to be urgently redressed. He (Hosein) said the Retired Judges Association which had been in existence about 15 years, had been making representations because of the unsatisfactory level of the judiciary pensions. “We have one or two judges who have served for over 20 years and whose pension is less than that of a judge who served for 10 years. The inequity of that is clear for all to see,” he said.
Hosein said some judges’ pensions were stagnant for 15 or more years. “That cannot be fair in any country or in any system,” he said.
He said any trade union having to deal with such a situation would have resorted to “convulsive action”. He said the judges had suffered in silence for a long period. During debate on the bill, Government leader Dr Roodal Moonilal pointed out that Ulric Cross had a judicial pension of $3,500 at the time of his death.
Hosein said furthermore that when a judge retires he cannot practise in the courts for ten years after retirement. He said no other group in the society faced this kind of restriction.
Hosein recalled that a delegation of retired judges had approached then President Max Richards about the facts of their plight and Richard told them they were “pushing an open door”. He (Richards) referred the matter to then prime minister Patrick Manning and they put their case to Manning.
Manning, however, told them that he could not entertain their pleas because other public servants in the society were experiencing the same problems.
Manning also told them that the Government was about to set up a Committee to deal with the whole issue of pensions for public servants. Hosein said they heard nothing further and that was the end of it.
Hosein said when the retired judges raised the matter with the SRC, the Commission said it had no jurisdiction on the matter of judges’ pensions.
On the issue of having pensions linked to performance which was raised by former Head of the Public Service, Reginald Dumas, Hosein said Dumas did not suggest a system of measurement of that performance. Hosein said the timely delivery of judgments as well as good judgments (which withstood challenge) were generally the yardsticks for measuring a judge’s performance. He said judges who fell into this category were promoted to the Appeal Court, he noted. He said the judge referred to by Dumas who had 60 outstanding judgment was no longer in the judiciary and could not continue because of that situation. Hosein said the Judicial and Legal Service Commission scrutinises the quality of the work of judges.
Hosein said the passage of the bill would redound to the benefit of the judiciary since senior practitioners (attorneys) who might shy away, would be more willing to serve on the bench. This, he said, would strengthen the judiciary and enhance independence.