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Why judges make so much money

Have you ever wondered how much judges are paid? Have you ever wondered why they get paid this amount?

Have you ever wondered how much judges are paid? Have you ever wondered why they get paid this amount? In this blog post I examine judicial salaries in major Australian federal and state courts and explain the reasons why judges receive high rates of pay. Note that this blog post focuses on salary only. Judges receive a number of other benefits under salary packaging, so the base rate of salary does not reflect full entitlements.

 

CURRENT SALARIES OF SELECT FEDERAL AND STATE COURT JUDGES

High Court 

Current salary:

Chief Justice $536,070

Judge $486,480

Law behind the salary:

Section 12 of the High Court of Australia Act 1979 (Cth) provides that the Chief Justice and Justices of the High Court shall receive salary and allowances fixed by Parliament from time to time. Parliament created the Remuneration Tribunal and gave the Remuneration Tribunal the power to determine salary, allowances and other matters for office holders including judicial offices (s.7 Remuneration Tribunal Act 1973 (Cth)). The current salary of High Court judges is set out in the current determination, “Remuneration Tribunal Determination 2015/10 Judicial and Related Offices – Remuneration and Allowances”.

Federal Court

Current salary:

Chief Justice $453,960

Judge $412,550

The law behind the salary:

Section 9 of the Federal Court of Australia Act 1976 (Cth) provides that the Chief Justice and judges of the Federal Court are to receive the salary and allowances as fixed from time to time by Parliament. Parliament created the Remuneration Tribunal and gave the Remuneration Tribunal the power to determine salary, allowances and other matters for office holders including judicial offices (s.7 Remuneration Tribunal Act 1973 (Cth)). The current salary of Federal Court judges is set out in the current determination, “Remuneration Tribunal Determination 2015/10 Judicial and Related Offices – Remuneration and Allowances”.

Victorian Supreme Court

Current salary:

Chief Justice $465,548

Judge $412,550

The law behind the salary:

Section 82 of the Constitution Act 1975 (Vic) states that the salaries, allowances and pensions of judges of the Supreme Court are to be paid at the rate applicable under the Judicial Salaries Act 2004 (Vic). Section 4(4) of the Judicial Salaries Act 2004 (Vic) states that Supreme Court judges are to be paid the salary payable to Federal Court judges under s.9 of the Federal Court of Australia Act 1976(Cth). $412,500 is the current salary payable to Federal Court judges, so Supreme Court judges in Victoria will be paid this amount. Under ss. 4 and 6 of the Judicial Salaries Act 2004 (Vic) the Chief Justice is entitled to 112.86% of the salary of a Supreme Court Judge. 112.86% of $412,500 is $465,548.

Victorian County Court (District Court) 

Current salary:

Chief Judge $412,550

Judge $357,433

The law behind the salary:

Section 10 of the County Court Act 1958 (Vic) states that judges are to be paid in accordance with the Judicial Salaries Act 2004 (Vic). Sections 4 and 6 of the Judicial Salaries Act 2004 combined provide that County Court judges are entitled to a proportion of the annual salary of a Supreme Court judge. The Chief Judge of the County Court is entitled to 100% of the rate of a Supreme Court judge. This is $412,550. A judge of the County Court is entitled to 86.64% of the rate of a Supreme Court judge. This is $357,433.

NSW Supreme Court

Current salary:

Chief Justice $482,470

Judge $431,160

The law behind the salary:

Section 29 of the Supreme Court Act 1970 (NSW) provides that judges are entitled to remuneration in accordance with the Statutory and Other Offices Remuneration Act 1975 (NSW). Section 13 of the Statutory and Other Offices Remuneration Act provides that the Statutory and Other Offices Remuneration Tribunal (SOORT) is to make annual determinations on remuneration to be paid to judges and other specified office holders. The relevant determination is SOORT’s “2015 Annual Determination for Judges and Magistrates”.

NSW District Court

Current salary:

Chief Judge $431,160

Judge $386,160

The law behind the salary:

Section 15 of the District Court Act 1973 (NSW) provides that judges are entitled to remuneration in accordance with the Statutory and Other Offices Remuneration Act 1975 (NSW). The Chief Judge of the District Court is entitled to the same remuneration as a judge of the Supreme Court (s.15A District Court Act 1973 (NSW). Section 13 of the Statutory and Other Offices Remuneration Act provides that the Statutory and Other Offices Remuneration Tribunal (SOORT) is to make annual determinations on remuneration to be paid to judges and other specified office holders. The relevant determination is SOORT’s 2015 Annual Determination for Judges and Magistrates.

SA Supreme Court

Current salary:

Chief Justice $462,020

Judge $412,550

The law behind the salary:

Section 12 of the Supreme Court Act 1935 (SA) provides that the Chief Justice and judges of the Supreme Court are entitled to salary and allowances at rates determined by the Remuneration Tribunal. The relevant Remuneration Tribunal determination is Determination 9/2014 which provides salaries and allowances in Determination 5/2013 shall continue to apply. The current salary noted above is taken from Determination 5/2013.

SA District Court

Current salary:

Chief Judge $412,550

Judge $364,320

The law behind the salary:

Section 13 of the District Court Act 1991 (SA) provides that the Chief Justice and judges of the District Court are entitled to salary and allowances at rates determined by the Remuneration Tribunal. The relevant Remuneration Tribunal determination is Determination 9/2014 which provides salaries and allowances in Determination 5/2013 shall continue to apply.

IMPORTANCE OF JUDICIAL SALARY

Judicial salary, like judicial tenure, is an important component of ensuring judicial independence. I am referring to judicial independence in two contexts:

  1. Judicial independence as a component of the separation of powers

In a pure execution of the separation of powers, the executive, legislative and judicial arms of government are separate in operation and influence. In practise, due to the mixed adoption of American and British government systems at Federation, the executive and legislative arms of government in Australia are not separate. However, the judicial arm of government is separate from the executive arm and the legislative arm, an essential component of the separation of powers in Australia (Attorney-General (Cth) v The Queen (1957) 95 CLR 529, 540-1). In the Boilmakers Case (R v Kirby; Ex parte Boilermakers’ Society of Australia (1956) 94 CLR 254, 270) the High Court held that the Constitution facilitates this separation by ensuring:

-judicial power can only be vested in a Chapter III Court; and

-non-judicial powers cannot be vested in a Chapter III Court.

Judicial salary assists judges to operate separately from government. While judges are appointed by the executive, judicial salary is set by the relevant independent remuneration tribunal.

  1. Judicial independence as a component of the rule of law

One pillar of the rule of law is that the law is applied equally and fairly so that no-one is above the law. As the judiciary enforce the law, it is essential that they remain independent to enable the law to be applied consistently and fairly. High judicial salaries assist with judicial independence as a judge is less likely to succumb to bribery or corruption when they earn a large amount through their ordinary salary.

While judicial salaries may appear high, many judges take a pay cut when they commence their office as a judge. Many judges are appointed from the Bar where it is not uncommon for a Queens Counsel or Senior Counsel to earn upward of $500,000 annually. On appointment, these lawyers take a $100,000+ pay cut. The judicial salary needs to be high enough to attract Australia’s most experienced and lawyers and protect judicial independence while not being too excessive, as judges’ are paid by the government from taxpayer’s money.

The talented Monika Holmwood first published this article here

Why judges make so much money
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