It takes a lot to get me from my normal blogging territory of construction and energy. Two things have managed to do it.
The first is the flurry of comments on twitter and other social media describing the retirement of Lord Dyson, the Master of the Rolls as “premature” and as indicative of some greater malaise in the judiciary. Just a second. Lord Dyson will retire in October aged 73, having been the Master of the Rolls for 4 years and a Judge for 23 years.He could have retired 8 years ago and taken his full pension. The flurry about Lord Dyson’s retirement disguises the real issue which is the effect of a combination of recent changes in judicial terms and conditions and the taxation of pensions on retention of younger Judges and recruitment of new ones. Recent changes have a disproportionate effect on new and young but senior judges. The package of a High Court Judge appointed now is significantly worse than that provided to an appointee in 2010. People credibly talk of the net package now as 70% of what it was then. A pay cut of 30% !
The surprise is not that there are some retirements that might look a little early, but that people bother to do the job at all and when they do, they stay more than five minutes. Perhaps, it is time now to adopt the practice of other jurisdictions where Judges act as Public Judges for part of the year and as International Arbitrators or in similar roles for another part. I am probably the wrong one to ask because I have never wanted to be a Judge. However, taking an appointment now involves a very considerable sacrifice for comparatively little benefit. It is public service but at great personal expense. Let us hope that the powers that be in the Ministry of Justice can address this problem. The slightly enhanced salary recently suggested can only be described as a start. It is, I suspect, the time for some innovative thinking.
In the midst of the Twitter outrage about Lord Dyson’s allegedly premature departure from the sinking ship, I came across some hostile observations about Lord Justice Jackson. They hit a new height in the Brief, the Times excellent email morning update, this morning where Mr David Golten, a solicitor, felt it right to say “as to litigation being exorbitantly expensive, I am not aware of any briefs returned by Rupert Jackson, QC, when he was practising at the Bar because the fees were too high”.
Cheap but also unfair. I was often led by Rupert Jackson QC. In fact, his fees were always remarkably reasonable, if not low. Mr Golten’s comment is unfair. There was no element of bunce in fees charged by Rupert Jackson QC. As his junior, I can testify to that. Furthermore, having agreed reasonable fees, he used to put in prodigious amounts of work and certainly many more hours than he was charging for. When doing a trial, he often worked through the night. My happiest memory is of a case where I was one of his juniors. I was released from this particular part; he thought that he only needed one junior and not two. Saving costs, even then. The remaining junior was being worked to within an inch of his life. Suddenly respite came. Rupert said “Let’s have some supper” and the junior relaxed. Salvation was at hand. “We’ll go to Café Rouge” he said. But sadly there was to be no rest. Jackson ordered ahead by telephone. The pair duly had three courses and coffee in no more than 16 minutes and returned quickly to their papers for the night’s work to continue.
I know that Lord Justice Jackson’s reforms have caused strong views. Of course, there is room for more than one view about some or all of the costs and procedural reforms that he has pioneered. Surely, however, no one would think that the old CFA system, which ramped fees up to an extraordinary extent could survive without reform. Surely no one could have thought that civil procedure did not need a kick applying to it to make it more efficient? Of course the view that some of the reforms may have gone too far is an understandable one, whether right or wrong. But don’t pretend that there weren’t problems that somebody had to have the courage to come and at least try and solve. And in this debate, we really should be talking about the issues rather than taking what look like cheap shots at individuals.