Judges' early Christmas present

HAMISH RUTHERFORD
Last updated 05:00 20/12/2013

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Judges are being given an early Christmas present, with confirmation their pay is rising at more than twice the rate of inflation.

The Remuneration Authority, which recently gave pay increases to members of Parliament, yesterday said that judges, from the Supreme Court to the District Court, would get pay increases of about 3.3 per cent, backdated to the start of October. In the year to the end of September, inflation was 1.4 per cent.

The salary of Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias will rise by $15,500 to $487,000, while her fellow Supreme Court judges and the President of the Court of Appeal, Sir Mark O'Regan, see their pay climb by $13,500 to $457,000.

All district court judges, and judges of the Maori Land Court, pocket increases of $9500, bringing their salaries to $310,000.

John Errington, chairman of the authority and a former president of the Wellington Chamber of Commerce, said there was no set peer group against which the judicial salaries were compared.

However, as well as consulting judges and the attorney-general, the authority looked at movements in pay for senior lawyers and those in top positions in the public sector.

Mr Errington conceded the increases were more than the average rise in wages across the workforce in recent times.

The labour cost index rose by 2 per cent in the year to June 30.

"The reality is that senior level salaries in New Zealand are going up at bigger than the rate of inflation," he said.

"Because we are required to have regard to similar positions, we have to have regard to that." Judges had been consulted on what they should be paid, Mr Errington said.

"I wouldn't say they're leaping with joy but they're not unhappy with the levels of remuneration we're setting," he said. The fact that the top lawyers earned more than judges was "pointed out to us from time to time".

In setting salaries, the authority was aware of the need to attract high-quality lawyers to the bench. "It is important that we are able to recruit really good people into the judicial ranks, and so we do have to keep an eye on what we call ‘the recruitment pool' is earning."

As well as salaries, judges receive a circuit allowance, which covers the costs of travelling from their home towns for court hearings.

They also get a "principal allowance for general expenses", to cover the costs of everything from robes and books to study and the cost of entertaining visiting judges.

The expense rates were unchanged from last year, ranging from $7900 for the Chief Justice to $4100 for district court judges.

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Mr Errington said the authority would continue to study the actual costs incurred by judges, but it was evident that the current rates did not cover costs.

- Fairfax Media

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