Part-Time Judges Come Out on Top in Supreme Court Pensions Dispute

An important Supreme Court ruling concerning the pension rights of part-time judges has removed a potential obstacle in the way of justice being obtained by part-time workers who are treated less favourably than comparable full-time colleagues.

GavelDepending on their length of service, full-time, salaried judges who were appointed on or before 31 March 1995 are entitled to receive pensions on reaching retirement age under the Judicial Pensions and Retirement Act 1993. However, the same benefit is not available to part-time, fee-paid judges on the basis that they are not qualifying judicial office-holders as defined by the Act.

In those circumstances, four current and former judges who served at least part of their time on the bench on a part-time basis complained to an Employment Tribunal (ET) of less favourable treatment, contrary to the Part-time Workers Directive (Directive 97/81) and the Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000.

Claims under the Regulations must be brought within three months of the date on which the alleged less favourable treatment or detriment occurs and the judges’ complaints were dismissed on the basis that they had been brought too late. The ET found that the three-month time limit began to run on the date of their appointment and that their claims were thus substantially out of time.

In ruling on their appeals against that decision, the Court noted that judicial office-holders, whether full- or part-time, are not employed under contracts. The judges might well have been able to complain of unequal treatment on the date of their appointment due to the lack of any provision for a pension, equivalent to that available to their full-time colleagues, in their terms of office.

In unanimously upholding their appeals, however, the Court found that that did not detract in any way from the less favourable treatment that they undoubtedly suffered, or would suffer, at the point of retirement. As a matter of common sense, the detriment that they suffered when compared to full-time judges was continuing and persisted throughout their periods of office. Time in respect of the three-month limitation period thus began to run on the date of their retirement. The Court made declarations to give effect to its decision.

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