England: Judges to take government to court over pension changes

Nearly 200 judges are to take legal action against the UK government over “discriminatory and unlawful” amendments to their pensions.

The judges are to fight changes that would end their pensions in a case that marks the climax of a battle between the judiciary and the government after amendments were proposed in 2011-12, instigating a dispute between Lord Judge, who was Lord Chief Justice then and former Lord Chancellor Kenneth Clarke.

Over 190 younger judges are now bringing legal action, arguing the changes are a form of unlawful age discrimination and are made entirely for cost reasons.

The judges’ action also engages the constitutional question whether the executive can unilaterally change the terms and conditions applicable to the judiciary.

One judge said: “Judges understandably feel betrayed and angry that the Lord Chancellor will shortly remove their pension entitlement, re-engaging them on less favourable terms.

“The money it was hoped would be saved by this will probably be spent on the ensuing litigation.”

When the propsals were first made, Lord Judge said they would result in fewer lawyers becoming judges since they generally already take a significant reduction in earnings to join the judiciary.

Because of these concerns Lord Judge was able to secure some concessions safeguarding judges born prior to 1957 from the full force of the changes – but they are still required to accept the new terms.

Younger judges will suffer the most, however, as they lose their original pension rights entirely and will need to join a pension scheme similar to the one used in the civil service.

In February a survey of judges found significant dissatisfaction over pensions and pay.

But the Ministry of Justice said judges cannot avoid public spending cuts.

Gary Slapper, global professor of law at New York University, said: “Even though historically judges have very occasionally become individual claimants in cases such as alleged libels, this is exceptionally rare. Collective legal action is unknown.”

Share icon
Share this article: