Commission concerned about security of judges
THE Independent Judiciary Commission, which was mandated to assess the adequacy of the salaries and benefits of high court judges, has raised alarm over what it says is “the growing security risks to the judiciary due to the nature of their jobs and the number of high-profile cases in the courts as well as the increase in crime and violence in the country.
The 10th Independent Commission of the Judiciary, chaired by Leighton McKnight and included Minna Israel and Michelle Robinson, in its report which was this week unveiled in Parliament by Finance Minister Nigel Clarke, said given the present environment it is of the view that the present stipend provided to the judiciary “is grossly inadequate and fails to provide the means to ensure that members of the judiciary can avail themselves of the highest level of security available at their homes and in the dispensation of their jobs”.
“Protection of the judiciary is paramount,” the commissioners said, adding that they also note “with concern the seeming inadequacy of the police security provided to the judiciary”.
“The commission understands that given the shortage of officers in the police corps, inadequate numbers are being assigned to judges while going about their duties. Protection is limited only to the courts and only during criminal proceedings. Security before and after court cases is said to be negligible, if at all,” the body said.
“This situation is worrying as it leaves judges exposed and concerned about their safety. We urge a resolution of the provision of police security to ensure the personal security of judges in the discharge of their duties and at their homes,” the commission said.
As such, the body said it “strongly recommends” that the allowance for security be increased from an annual amount of $94,556 to $403,124 for the 2022-2023 financial year and thereafter be increased to $500,000 for the 2023-2024 fiscal year.
The body said it had taken into consideration the recent ruling by the Supreme Court in September 2022 that provides that security guards should be treated as employees and not as contract workers and the resulting increases in the cost of providing security that will arise. It said the increase in the security allowance will also facilitate the cost of security installation and related repairs as well as the costs of monthly surveillance for both homes and motor vehicles of judges.
In the recommended compensation packages for the chief justice, senior puisne judge, puisne judges; the president of the Court of Appeal, and judges of the Court of Appeal, the Commission recommended, among other things, that the cost of living increase should be applied to all judicial salaries and allowances to ensure that there is no erosion of their compensation in real terms. It said all allowances, except housing and security, should be rolled into basic salary.
The commission, in a comparative analysis of the compensation of members of the judiciary across the region, said Jamaica “remains at the lowest tier of judicial compensation when compared to its regional counterparts”. In highlighting the salaries paid to judges in the Cayman Islands as an example, the committee said while Cayman might be seen as an outlier, given that it is a United Kingdom overseas territory, it is, given its location, “a real lure to judges”.
The latest recommendation will see Jamaica’s chief justice’s salary jumping to $28.8 million per annum, inclusive of all allowances, except for security and housing. The salary of a senior puisne judge will rise to $21.9 million per annum, while puisne judges will get $20.8 million. The president of the Court of Appeal’s compensation will increase to $26.2 million, while a judge of the Court of Appeal will now get $23.8 million.
Judges’ emoluments are reviewed in three-year cycles, with the current review relating to the period 2021/22 to 2023/24, following the last salary increase judges got in 2020/21.
The recommendation was that for the first year — 2021/22 — judges should get a six per cent increase in salaries, in line with that offered to public sector workers at the time.
At that time the salaries of judges stood at between $9 million and $11.6 million per annum. The recommendation for the following year was a salary ranging from $18.3 million for puisne judges at the low end to $25.3 million for the chief justice at the high end. The final adjustment for the three-year cycle takes the salaries to between $20.9 million and $28.8 million.