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Sunday 25 March 2018

Ex-judges can’t buy diapers

ATTORNEY GENERAL Anand Ramlogan yesterday said some retired judges live in such a ruinous state of poverty that they cannot even afford to buy medication and adult disposable diapers, as he spoke with Newsday during the Senate tea-break.

He backed a bill recently in Parliament that proposes to raise judges’ pensions, saying that legal opinions by two senior counsel, British constitutional expert, Timothy Straker and Caribbean jurist Sir Fenton Ramsahoye, also supported his view.

Ramlogan said judge’s pensions have hitherto been calculated by reference to a 1976 amendment to the 1962 Judges Service and Pensions Act, chapter 6:02. Saying distinguished judges may retire into unfortunate and impoverished circumstances, the AG said that up to now their silent plea for help had fallen on deaf ears, in an indictment of society.

Ramlogan refuted the idea that the bill intrudes on the domain of the Salaries Review Commission (SRC), saying the Retired Judges Association told him that the SRC only deals with active judges and not those who have retired. Likewise, he denied any breach of the principle of the constitutional separation of powers by saying the Legislature (Parliament) is not affecting active members of the Judiciary but just retirees.

The Prime Minister yesterday put a freeze on the controversial Bills which would raise the pensions of judges and MPs, instead referring the issue to a Senate Committee, after howls of condemnations from several quarters in society.

Saying a judge retires with a fixed pension that is eroded by inflation, he lamented that they often face penury and hardship, adding, “This must not be allowed to continue.” The AG pointed to two precedents for the Legislature to better the lot of the Judiciary by legislation. In 1980 former prime minister, Dr Eric Williams, had not implemented the SRC’s suggested wage-hike for judges but had instead got Parliament to pass legislation to award a new “Judicial Contract Allowance.”

In 1988, former prime minister ANR Robinson said the State cannot raise judge’s salaries but proceeded to get Parliament to pass legislation to make said salaries tax-free. Ramlogan said in both cases the SRC did not object.

The AG’s “fact sheet” said the Constitution lets Parliament pass the Judges Pensions (Amendment) Bill to change the method of calculating pensions, and then the SRC can determine salary and allowances.

Ramlogan said Straker’s and Ramsahoye’s opinions conclude that the amendment poses no violation of the Constitution nor of the SRC’s independence, and is not breach of the separation of powers. Straker’s opinion concludes, “The argument that the current proposal is unconstitutional, undermines the independence of the judiciary or undermines the Commission is not sustainable.”

Ramsahoye concludes, “I am of the opinion that there is no constitutional impropriety in the proposed legislation which Parliament can pass without the intervention of the Salaries Review Commission.”

Ramsahoye said there is a societal interest in the future welfare of judges who have rendered service.

“Judges are at the heart of the rule of law. Their endeavours contribute to the peace and security of the State and its people,” said Ramsahoye. “Society has an interest in ensuring that when they have retired from service they are able to live until death with a measure of comfort and that their widows should be able to maintain a reasonable standard appropriate to their condition.”


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