Feb 12, 2009 04:30 AM
In a tough economy, there's no mercy for judges.
Canada's 1,000 federally appointed judges, who were seeking to push their pay to $307,000 by 2011, were told yesterday they must live with salary restraints similar to other public servants.
The base pay for most is about $260,000, and the hike would represent an 18 per cent increase.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson delivered the news in the government's long-awaited response to recommendations made last year by an independent commission on judicial salaries. But he didn't indicate what increase the government would offer.
Justice Pierre Dalphond, president of the Canadian Superior Court Judges Association, said his members recognize the economy is facing "unprecedented challenges" and that "various temporary measures" might be required.
But the case is far from closed, he suggested.
Federally appointed judges include trial judges at the 361 University Ave. courts, all provincial superior courts, courts of appeal, the Federal Court of Canada, the Federal Court of Appeal, the Tax Court of Canada and the Supreme Court of Canada.
Last spring, an arm's-length body called the Judicial Compensation and Benefits Commission, recommended salaries be increased to $264,300 – retroactive to April 2008 – with 2 per cent increases each subsequent year up to 2011.
With cost-of-living increases, the commission's recommendation would have hiked judges' salaries to approximately $304,000, close to what the Canadian Association of Superior Court Judges had been seeking.
But yesterday, Nicholson said those increases would be "unreasonable" in a time of global economic uncertainty, when the government needs to focus on "sound fiscal management."
The public expects judges to be subject to the same salary caps as other civil servants, he added.
It's the second time the federal Conservatives have rejected the commission's recommendations. After taking office in 2006, they scaled back a 10.5 per cent judicial pay raise, which had been supported in principle by Paul Martin's Liberal government.
Judges received a 7.25 per cent pay hike instead.
Nicholson's office offered no further details on what judges can expect by way of an increase, though raises for other members of the public service have been limited to 1.5 per cent in each of the next three years.
After retiring, federally appointed judges receive pensions of about two-thirds their salary.
The Ontario government also appoints judges who sit in provincial courts, such as that at Old City Hall, and earn about $225,000 a year.
The Constitution Act of 1867, however, stipulates that salaries, allowances and pensions of superior court judges be provided by Parliament.
An independent commission recommends appropriate salaries, so as to preserve judicial independence and keep the government from controlling the purse-strings and financially manipulating judges.
The commission is expected to consider prevailing economic conditions, the federal government's finances and the importance of setting salaries high enough to attract "outstanding" lawyers to the bench and provide enough financial security to keep judges from being corrupted, for instance, by accepting bribes.
The judges' association was furious last year when it discovered the federal government obtained judges' pre-appointment tax records to try to counter claims that higher salaries were needed to entice quality candidates to the bench.
Nearly 70 per cent of federal judges appointed between 1995 and 2007 had been self-employed as lawyers.
More than 60 per cent saw their salaries increase after becoming a judge.
As lawyers, 19 per cent had been earning less than half of what they made as a judge.
As lawyers, 75 per cent earned less than $250,000 a year in 2005.
Provincial governments have also been required since 1997 to set up independent commissions to make recommendations on judges' salaries.
When a succession of provinces, including Ontario, refused to implement pay raises recommended by the commissions, the judges took them to court.
In 2005, the Supreme Court established ground rules for when governments can refuse to implement a commission's recommendations.
The decision was widely regarded as favourable to the provinces because it emphasized that deciding how to spend the public's money is the job of governments, not the courts.
Commentary by the Ottawa Mens Centre
You can't put a price on justice and all judges are not the same. Some are working till very late at night several days a week simply to expedite justice. The same judges in private practice can bill well over $300 per hour and endlessly turn away clients. Then you have the bottom dregs on the ethical dipstick who as lawyers engaged in an endless list of criminal offences, including, personally fabricated evidence, misleading justice. As smart lawyers they did not get caught, they played the survivor game and won a ticket to the bench. On the bench many become LAZY judges who flagrantly abuse their fiduciary discretion, by making "Power orders" or Sheffield orders", “orders for summary judgment”, “vexatious litigant orders”, “orders striking pleadings”, often for corrupt reasons and corrupt relationships. These corrupt judges are putting droves of men in jail without trials, terminating children's relationships with their fathers for no other reason than a pathological hatred of fathers.