Constitutional Hill

Pay hikes for judges?

I am not sure what to make of the article in the Sunday Times alleging that some judges are deeply unhappy about the recommendations of the Moseneke Commission which would see the pay of senior judges like th Chief Justice and the President of the Supreme Court of Appeal go up by a whopping 50% or more while their pay would “only” go up 17%.

As The Times reports today:

Should the commission’s salary adjustments be adopted, it would see Chief Justice Pius Langa’s salary increase from R103 4302 to R1.7-million — a 65 percent raise.

The current gap between Judge Langa’s salary and that of ordinary judges is R82 000. The gap will go up to almost R600 000, if the salary increases go through.

Other top judges set to benefit are Judge Craig Howie of the Supreme Court of Appeal, South Africa’s nine Constitutional Court judges and 19 appeal judges, who could get an increase of 40 percent. More than double what their “poorly” paid junior colleagues might receive.

A 17% pay increase looks rather large compared to the 7.25% the government is offering the striking civil servants. Earning a million Rand a year seems like a relatively handy salary – especially if one takes into account that at retirement judges receive their full salary for life.

It is true, however, that the top black lawyers can earn much more in private practice, but few of the top black lawyers have actually decided to become judges. If all judges would get a 65% increase, we would be overpaying most of them, I would imagine.

And what about the idea that such a big gap between the salaries of judges would make judges ambitious and could sway them to make decisions that would be good for their careers? This seems a tricky issue. On the one hand one would imagine that it would exactly be those judges who make the best decisions who would be able to look forward to promotion.

On the other hand the nature of the Judicial Services Commission process, might leave room for conjecture that judges less willing to take on the government of the day would be more likely to be promoted. The monetary incentives to get to the Constitutional Court could then be said to put pressure on the judiciary to become more compliant.

I suspect this argument is not going to hold water in the long run. The really good judges will always shine and as long as the JSC system is not completely perverted, none of the judges that will be promoted will be promoted merely because they were compliant – they would have to demonstrate expertise and some brilliance.

Maybe I have a touchingly naive notion of the judiciary, but I cannot imagine that many judges (maybe Judge President Hlophe excluded!) would even think of making judicial decisions in such a Machiavellian manner. Only time will tell.

  • Anonymous

    The most accurate and insightful paragraph of your blog on judicial salary increases is the one that ventures that as the best legal talent is no longer attracted to judicial appointment, giving High Court judges a 50% pay rise would actually result in most of them being paid more than they are worth.
    The first task should be to right the competency levels of appointees so that the status formerly attached to high judicial office is restored. Only once that is done, should attention be given to remunerating a properly equipped Bench appropriately.

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  • Paul Hjul

    And has time – and more importantly the Zumastration not proved the concerns of 2007′s creation of a massive gap between judicial salaries to be sound and valid?