‘Divisive’ 3% pay boost for senior judges rejected by government watchdog

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By Thomas Connelly on

But how do our top judges’ pay packets measure up against those of City lawyers?

A government watchdog has rejected a proposed 3% pay rise for some of the country’s most senior judges, describing the plan as “divisive” and “detrimental” to the motivation and morale of their less senior judicial colleagues.

The plans — backed by both the Lord Chancellor, Michael Gove, and the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas — would see salaries of High Court judges boosted by 3%. However, with less senior figures receiving an increase of just 1% under the proposals, the Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB) has now produced a lengthy report slamming the plans.

With applications to the High Court bench dropping from 144 in 2007/08 to just 73 in 2014/15, the upper ranks of the judiciary are struggling to retain talent and fill vacancies.

However the SSRB has claimed that upping the pay of top judges is not the answer. In a report published last week, it said:

Having looked at the evidence, and listened to views from all the parties, we were left unconvinced that this would improve recruitment and retention rates for High Court judges sufficiently to outweigh its detrimental effect on the motivation and morale of other members of the remit group.

The report suggested that pay wasn’t the only problem facing judges. A host of factors referenced include changes to judicial pensions, increasing outside earnings, larger and more complex caseloads and increases in litigants in person.

Recommending a more modest pay increase of just 1%, a High Court judge will now take home £179,768. A circuit judge will receive an annual salary of £133,506 and a district judge £103,950. Meanwhile, the Lord Chief will pocket £249,583.

But how do out top judges stack up against other big legal earners across the country?

A host of US firms within the City pay their newly qualified lawyers almost as much as a district judge. According to Legal Cheek’s Firms Most List, Sullivan & Cromwell, Latham Watkins, Akin Gump, Davis Polk, Kirkland Ellis and Weil Gotshal all pay their fresh-faced associates in excess of a £100k a year — only a few thousand pounds shy of what a district judge will take home.

However it’s only when you look at those further up the City pecking order that vast pay gaps begin to emerge.

Earlier this year Legal Cheek reported that the top earner at magic circle outfit Freshfields took home over £3 million. This followed a similar story at Linklaters last December, when a senior lawyer at the corporate giant pocketed a cheque for a staggering £3.2 million, almost 13 times as much as the Lord Chief justice.

Even our country’s leader can’t match that. Prime Minister David Cameron has an annual salary of £142k, just slightly more than a lawyer with three years post-qualification experience at the London office of Debevoise & Plimpton, who pockets a cool £125k.

But who works longer hours?