Vast majority of Scottish judges feel working conditions worse than five years ago

A survey designed to give salaried members of the judiciary in Scotland the opportunity to provide feedback on their views and experiences of serving as a judge has found that almost all judges who have been in their post for at least 5 years (82 per cent) feel working conditions are worse now than 5 years ago, but this view is held more widely by sheriffs (88 per cent) than senators (40 per cent).

The Judicial Attitude Survey 2014 also found that almost half (42 per cent) of all judges said their case workload over the last 12 months was too high, with no real differences between judicial posts.

Judges reported variability in the quality of resources. At least half of all judges feel that library and books (53 per cent), physical environment (51 per cent) and IT support (50 per cent) are good to excellent. The standard of IT equipment in court is rated the lowest (43 per cent rating it as poor).

A majority rated the quality of administrative support (59 per cent) and facilities at court for interaction with other judges (50 per cent) as either good or excellent. Morale of court staff was rated lowest, with 40 per cent saying it was poor.

In relation to pensions, the survey respondents highlighted two key issues: the loss of net earnings judges have experienced over the last 5 years (80 per cent) and the fact that pay and pension together do not, they believe, adequately reflect the work they do (74 per cent).

In addition, over half of all judges (55 per cent) do not feel they are paid a reasonable salary for the work they do.

Over three-quarters (78 per cent) of Judges feel that the fairest approach to pension entitlements would be reductions only for new judges entering the judiciary.

As far as the future is concerned a large proportion of the judiciary say they might consider leaving the judiciary early over the next 5 years.

This is particularly marked for senators in the Inner House of the Court of Session, where almost three-quarters (71 per cent) of judges who will not reach full retirement age in the next 5 years either might consider leaving early (57 per cent) or are currently undecided (14 per cent).

There are two main factors Scottish judges say would prompt them to leave the judiciary early: further limits on pay awards (70 per cent) and reductions in pension benefits (70 per cent).

A majority (54 per cent) would also be prompted to leave early by an increase in workload.

An overwhelming majority (88 per cent) of judges said one key factor would help to keep them in the judiciary until they reach retirement age: higher remuneration.

Judges identified the main future challenges for the judiciary as: fiscal constraints (91 per cent), reduction in support staff (84 per cent), litigants in person (80 per cent), attracting the best people to the judiciary (80 per cent), judicial morale (79 per cent) and loss of judicial independence (72 per cent).

On the question of recruitment, the survey found that the main reasons judges would encourage suitable people to apply to join the Scottish judiciary are: the chance to contribute to justice being done (83 per cent), challenge of the work (82 per cent), intellectual satisfaction (71 per cent) and public service (69 per cent).

A majority of Scottish judges say they would discourage suitable applicants from applying for five reasons: likelihood of further pension reductions (74 per cent) reduction in income (65 per cent), constant policy changes (53 per cent) and lack of personal control over working time (52 per cent).

The survey, which was conducted on behalf of the lord president and thechief justices in the UK by the Judicial Institute of University College London, assessed the attitudes of salaried judges in a number of key areas.

The findings of the survey informed the judiciary’s submissions to the Senior Salaries Review Body, which makes recommendations to the government on the appropriate level of pay for senior positions in public service including judges, the military and the civil service.

Click here for the judiciary of Scotland survey findings.

The results for England and Wales and UK non-devolved tribunals are available here, and the report for Northern Ireland is published here.