Would you like to be a judge? Mmm, me too. “All rise for His Lordship!” – what fun! Nearly as good as being a bishop visiting a classroom in the old days. And think of the pay. That said, the south of Ireland is having a hard time financially these days so the Minister for Justice is suggesting they share in the general salary reduction pain. The reduction, if implemented, would mean a cut of €50,000 a year for High Court judges.
Wow. That’s a lot of money. About £45,000 in Her Majesty’s sterling. You’d hardly be able to keep all the Sky channels with a slice-off like that…But wait. What am I saying? It’s a slice-off. The question is, not how much is their pay going to be reduced, but how much do they earn? Um, €243,000 a year if you’re a High Court judge. Work out the sterling for yourself. Take off €50,000 and they'd still be near 200 grand a year.
Back in the 1960s, I remember our History professor at UCD explaining why judges got such high salaries: “It’s so they can be protected from the temptation of financial corruption”. Which shows you how simple History professors were back then and how simple we were to accept such an explanation. As if , when you hit a certain level, you wouldn’t want more.
The reason judges then and now get obscenely bloated salaries is…they like it like that. The same applies to the legal profession. Which would you rather: prepare a defence of someone up for being drunk and disorderly, or sell clothes in Marks and Spencer? You'd certainly get about five times the salary doing the lawyering. At least. The legal profession, compared to an average worker, is like Prince Charles to his toothpaste-squeezer . No comparison.
“But judges and lawyers do such a vital job!” Really? They are central to keeping the justice system working, true. That means each year helping send thousands of people, overwhelmingly men, to prison. And how do they come out after their sentence? Do they learn Latin so they can become lawyers and judges? Ah no. They try to make their money – much less money than judges or lawyers, of course – by violent and/or illegal means and before you know it, they’re back in prison.
Will it ever change? Well, when the Tory Cabinet minister Kenneth Clarke tried to suggest a minor modification to the penal system some weeks back, he almost got devoured by the Conservative right. “Ah but that’s Britain” you say. "I thought you were talking about the south”. So I was. Try suggesting a rethink on the justice system across the border or even that judges should earn a half-reasonable salary – say, €100,000 a year. The clanging sound you'll immediately hear will be the southern establishment closing ranks.
Mercifully, we don’t have such problems with our lawyers, judges or prisons north of the border. Do we?