The price of judicial independence… and fairness

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With 760 bus drivers walking picket lines, 130 brewery workers on the edge of lockout, 870 professors voting to strike and 3,800 health care workers heading for conciliation, it’s no surprise news that 36 provincial court judges have a new three-year deal with the province passed almost entirely unnoticed.

Judges don’t actually negotiate their salaries. That would be unseemly. An association speaks for them—sort of a union, but with a gentler sounding name and less formal power. Who needs formal power when you’re speaking for judges?

Judges can’t strike. A three-member tribunal hears submissions from their association, the government and anyone else who cares to comment. The tribunal considers those arguments and then decides. Binding arbitration, if you will, but without the baggage.

The ostensible reason for all this non-negotiating negotiating is to “maintain the independence of the judiciary,” so they can’t be “corrupted by the temptation to curry favour among certain litigants in order to gain financial advantage.”

Judges, of course, have mortgages, families, needs and wants. Not to mention jealousies that judges in other jurisdictions get more than they do. Their issues aren’t that different from us lesser mortals. Salaries, pensions, perks.

So how did the judges do?

Not badly. During the past 10 years, in fact, provincial court judges’ salaries in Nova Scotia increased from $144,000 to $207,577.

And, while the province is committed to holding the line at one per cent for other public servants, the tribunal decided judges needed three per cent. New salary: $214,000.

Pensions? The tribunal decided the public service pension plan, which caps indexing for everyone else at 1.25 per cent, isn’t sweet enough. Judges’ pensions—paid out of the same pot—will be indexed at 75 per cent of the consumer price index to a maximum of five per cent.

I’m not quibbling with the specifics.

But I would note that three per cent of a judge’s salary adds up to close to $7,000 more a year, while one per cent of the average Nova Scotian’s salary—$39,500—totals less than $400 a year.

The gap between those who have and those who don’t grows. Still. Again.

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Copyright 2012 Stephen Kimber, Website
  1. This article offers a choice of reasons to be scandalized, above and beyond the gap between judges’ salaries and the average salary in Nova Scotia. The judges salary of $214,000 seems generous though I admit to not being sure what they should earn considering the education one needs and the work load of many. For me the outrageous figure is the average NS salary, under $40,000 a year. I believe the average Canadian salary is closer to $60,000. We were always “have not” but we are approaching “have nothing.” Shame must be falling on someone.

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