Disquiet as Welsh judges ‘awarded lower pay rise than those working in England’
Disquiet has broken out in Welsh legal circles after First Minister Mark Drakeford decided to give judges and other members of devolved tribunals a lower pay rise than that awarded to those working in the rest of the legal system.
Mr Drakeford took the decision despite being told by the President of the Welsh Tribunals that members would seek to work for tribunals in England instead.
While most of Wales’ courts and tribunals are run by Westminster’s HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), there are seven tribunals that come under the Welsh Government and consider appeals against decisions made by public bodies: the Agricultural Land Tribunal for Wales; the Mental Health Review Tribunal for Wales; a rent assessment committee, including a leasehold valuation tribunal and a residential property tribunal; the Special Educational Needs Tribunal for Wales; a tribunal that hears appeals against the deregistration of school inspectors; a tribunal drawn from the Adjudication Panel for Wales, which considers alleged breaches of codes of conduct by councillors and others; and the Welsh Language Tribunal, which determines the outcome of appeals against decisions made by the Welsh Language Commissioner.
Members of the Welsh Tribunals will get a 5% rise backdated to April 2023, while those working for Westminster-run bodies like the Employment Tribunal have already been awarded 7%.
In a letter to Sir Gary Hickinbottom, President of the Welsh Tribunals, dated February 12, Mr Drakeford said: “I am writing to thank you for your time and for your constructive engagement when we met on December 18 to discuss the judicial pay award for 2023-24.
“I explained the incredibly difficult financial backdrop against which decisions are being made and I explained that we have not been able to provide a pay award greater than 5% for any sector for which the Welsh Ministers are responsible for pay decisions. I have asked that a 5% pay award backdated to April 1 2023 be implemented with back pay, calculations and payments being made as quickly as possible.
“I was grateful for your candour and clear-headed assessment of the potential implications of a 5% pay award, and I assure you that I have made the decision in full knowledge of the potential impacts you have raised. We are very reluctantly offering a pay award that does not match the award in the reserved courts and tribunals and we are committed to returning to pay parity as soon as the budgetary situation allows.
“These are very difficult financial times and we must do all we can to assure that public moneys are used in the most effective way possible. I would not for a moment however want anyone working within Wales’ tribunals to think it reflects a failure to value the essential work of the tribunals and of the members of those tribunals. On the contrary, throughout my time as First Minister I have taken keen interest in the development of our tribunals and the services they provide, including for some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
“As I near the end of my time as First Minister, I would like to place on record my thanks to you for the short time we have worked together and more generally to all of the people who have worked to operate our tribunals. I look forward to observing their continued development.”
Mr Drakeford asked the Welsh Tribunals Unit to share the letter with all members of the Welsh Tribunals judiciary.
Failure to comply
A Welsh legal source told us: “The First Minister, having been asked to match the pay rise for for judges in the courts and tribunals run by the Westminster government of 7% announced in July 2023, and having been told by the President of Welsh Tribunals that judges working for the devolved tribunals are choosing to work for the English ones due to the failure to comply with the Senior Salaries Review Board recommendation that Wales matches England, today – nearly a year after a pay review was due – wrote to say Welsh judges must accept lower pay to work in Wales.
“It’s interesting that a government that says it wants more responsibility for justice constantly refuses to pay for the system it already runs. There are no hearing venues, it refuses to contribute to a joint base in Cardiff with the Westminster HMCTS, and doesn’t know the budget for the new tribunal system.”
In May 2023, the Welsh Tribunals had a total of 238 members, who are not employed on salaries but paid a daily sitting fee. The payments vary in the different tribunals, with the President of Welsh Tribunals getting £946 per day. Presidents of individual tribunals get between £630 and £724 per day, with legal members getting between £537 and £671 and other members less.
The Welsh Government recently consulted on proposals to overhaul the tribunal system aimed at creating what Counsel General Mick Antoniw has described as “a unified, coherent tribunal system which will comprise the First-tier Tribunal for Wales and the Appeal Tribunal for Wales”.
They will also create a new statutory body called Tribiwnlysoedd Cymru /Tribunals Wales, to administer the new tribunal system; strengthen judicial supervision through an enhanced role for the President of Welsh Tribunals and Chamber presidents and deputies; create a consistent approach for setting procedural rules for the new tribunal system; and introduce simplified and coherent arrangements for the appointment of tribunal members, their deployment and complaints.
Mr Antoniw said: “The reforms we propose to the system are an important indicator of the approach the Welsh Government would take in designing and overseeing a devolved justice system.”
While the Welsh Government wants the justice system to be devolved, Shadow Welsh Secretary Jo Stevens has said that an incoming Labour UK government will only devolve youth justice and probation.
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