Government approves proposed wording on Judges’ Pay Referendum

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter, T.D., today obtained Government approval for the proposed wording of the Constitutional Amendment on judges’ pay. The amendment will be put to the people in a Referendum on the same date as the forthcoming Presidential election.

The Twenty Ninth Amendment of the Constitution (Judges’ Pay) Bill 2011, which has been the subject of detailed consideration by the Office of the Attorney General, will be published during August together with the draft legislation that will implement the reductions, if the amendment is approved in the forthcoming Referendum. It will propose that the current Article 35.5 of the Constitution be amended by substituting the following:

"35.5.1° The remuneration of judges shall not be reduced during their continuance in office save in accordance with this section.

35.5.2° The remuneration of judges is subject to the imposition of taxes, levies or other charges that are imposed by law on persons generally or persons belonging to a particular class.

35.5.3° Where, before or after the enactment into law of this section, reductions have been or are made by law to the remuneration of persons belonging to classes of persons whose remuneration is paid out of public money and such law states that those reductions are in the public interest, provision may also be made by law to make reductions to the remuneration of judges."

The Government also agreed that, following publication of the Bill, arrangements should be made by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government for the establishment of a Referendum Commission which has the statutory function of explaining the subject matter of the referendum to the electorate, promoting public awareness and encouraging the electorate to vote. Under the provisions of the Referendum Act 1998, the Commission will be chaired by either a retired or serving senior judge nominated by the Chief Justice.

Announcing the Government’s decision, Minister Shatter said: "I am pleased that the wording of the Referendum Bill has been approved by the Government. Should the proposed constitutional amendment receive majority support in the referendum to be held, it will facilitate application to the judiciary of the pension levy and the public sector wage reductions already applied to those paid out of the public purse. It will enable the judiciary to play it’s role in assisting the State at a time of unprecedented financial difficulty. In this context, it is only right that I acknowledge that the judiciary do not oppose the holding of this important referendum.

It is important to note that the amendment proposed does not in any way affect the crucial independence of the judiciary nor does it permit the reduction of judicial salaries in isolation from other public service salaries or on a capricious basis. The proposed amendment retains the general protection afforded to the judiciary in most countries; it confirms that the imposition of general taxes, levies or other charges on judicial salaries that are imposed on others can apply to judicial salaries and provides that reductions made in the past or in the future in public service pay in the public interest can be applied "by law" (that is primary legislation) to judicial salaries. In effect the amendment will allow for the application of all the provisions of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2009 (Pension Related Deduction) and the Financial Measures in the Public Interest Act (No 2) 2009 to the judiciary."

The Minister confirmed that he will publish the necessary Bill during the month of August and that arrangements will be made to brief opposition spokespersons on the Referendum wording ahead of the Dáil debate on the Bill in September.

26 July 2011

ENDS

Note for Editors

The Referendum Act 1998 makes provision for the Referendum Commission which comprises a Chairperson appointed by the Chief Justice and such chairperson can be a judge of the High Court or a former judge of the Supreme Court or of the High Court. The other members of the Commission are the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Ombudsman, the Clerk of Dail Eireann and the Clerk of Seanad Eireann.

Section 2(2)) of the Act of 1998 states that: "The Commission shall be independent in the performance of its functions" and section 2(11) states that "a member of the Commission shall not advocate or promote a particular result at the referendum in respect of which the Commission has been established".