Allow judiciary to work until 75, says Britain's most senior judge

Owen Bowcott Legal affairs correspondent
Judiciary vacancies are increasingly being left unfilled due to a serious shortage of suitably qualified candidates. Photograph: Homer Sykes/Getty Images

Judges should be allowed to sit beyond the age of 70 to ease the growing problem of judicial recruitment, the UK’s most senior judge, Lord Neuberger, has said.

Giving evidence to the Lords constitution committee, the president of the supreme court revealed that he had been lobbying for the upper age limit for the judiciary to be increased to 75.

Neuberger said: “I have been for some time pressing for changes to age limit. It’s bit odd that it’s being reduced [from the previous age of 75] at the time retirement ages elsewhere are going up.

“And the problem of recruitment means that if you are going to get first-class [applicants] they are probably going to be rather older than they are at present.”

The age limit should be raised to 75, Neuberger said.

This month the Judicial Appointments Commission warned that vacancies for crown court and high court judges were increasingly being left unfilled because of a serious shortage of suitably qualified applicants.

Last year six high court posts could not be filled. The commission is looking for up to 140 new crown court judges.

Many judges are considering quitting the bench early because they feel poorly paid, undervalued and fear for their personal safety in court, a recent judicial attitudes survey revealed.

Circuit judges are paid £134,000 and high court judges £180,000 a year, far less than successful QCs can earn in private practice. Cuts to pensions have added to their resentments.

Addressing the constitution select committee on Wednesday, Lady Hale, deputy president of the supreme court, explained that nine posts would open up on the supreme court before 2020.

The reason, she said, was mainly because justices have to retire at the age of 70 “even though they are at the height of their powers, which is a great shame”.

The only judges allowed to remain on the bench beyond 70 are those who were appointed before 1995. Not many remain active. By contrast, the eligible age for jury members was raised from 70 to 75 last autumn.

The idea of raising judges’ ages is attracting growing political support. During the second reading of the prisons and courts bill this month, the Conservative chair of the justice select committee, Bob Neill, called on the Ministry of Justice to “revisit the retiring age of senior judiciary, which, at 70, runs against the behaviour of much of the rest of society and our economy”.

The justice secretary, Liz Truss, did not reject the proposal entirely, replying: “The measure is not a part of the bill. I have had discussions on this issue with the senior judiciary. We should certainly consider it in due course, but at the moment there is no consensus.”

During the Lords constitution committee session, Neuberger also revealed the existence of a newly established advisory body - which includes senior judges, Treasury solicitors and officials from DExEU and the MoJ – which is working on the legal impact of Brexit. One of the judges is Lord Mance, a justice on the supreme court.


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