Judicial salaries in Bermuda: are they high enough?

Anyone familiar with Bermuda’s legal history will recall the infamous Thyssen litigation, the trial of which was conducted in the Supreme Court of Bermuda between 1999 and 2001.

The trial collapsed in controversial circumstances, including a complaint from the presiding judge, Mr Justice Dennis Mitchell, that he was not being paid enough.

For more background, see:

Fortunately, there have been significant structural reforms made to Bermuda’s legal system since 2001 (including the introduction of a designated Commercial Court in 2006, the appointment of specialist Commercial Court judges, and changes to the rules of civil procedure).

But the question still remains (as it does in many other jurisdictions): are judges being paid enough, and, in particular, are the specialist judges that are necessary to resolve complicated commercial and trusts cases being paid enough (for recruitment and retention purposes)?

The current judicial salaries in Bermuda (current, at least, as at 31 December 2015) are reported by the Bermuda Government to be as follows:

  • Chief Justice of the Supreme Court: $213,940
  • Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court: $187,606
  • Registrar of the Supreme Court: $171,893
  • Assistant Registrar of the Supreme Court: $144,319
  • Senior Magistrate: $171,893
  • Magistrate: $150,761 – $164,538

Superficially, at least, one might expect Bermuda’s current Commercial Court judges to be paid slightly more than $213,940 and $187,606 respectively, given the Court’s workload and its significance to the jurisdiction.

For the sake of context and comparison, however, other Bermuda governmental positions connected to the legal system attract the following salaries:

  • Governor of Bermuda: $208,619
  • Premier of Bermuda: $207,285
  • Member of Parliament and Attorney General: $203,045
  • Director of Public Prosecutions: $179,572
  • Solicitor General: $179,572
  • Chief Parliamentary Counsel: $179,572
  • Deputy Solicitor General: $171,893
  • Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions: $171,893
  • Senior Crown Counsel in the AG’s Chambers: $164,538
  • Auditor General: $187,606
  • Registrar of Companies: $157,497

These figures do not take account of additional benefits, including official housing allowances, and pension entitlements (which can be very significant to the overall analysis).

It is difficult to make very meaningful comparisons with other jurisdictions such as the UK, Canada, the Cayman Islands or the British Virgin Islands, given different costs of living, differences in security of tenure, differences in working conditions, differences in pension entitlements, currency fluctuations, and variations in local tax rates.

But it is perhaps worth noting the following (publicly advertised or reported) salaries:

  • Puisne Judge of the Grand Court of the Cayman Islands: US$243,344.92
  • Presiding Judge of the BVI Commercial Court, a division of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court: US$200,000
  • Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales: GBP 249,583 (roughly US$327,494 at today’s exchange rates)
  • Puisne Judge of the High Court of England and Wales: GBP 179,768 (roughly US$235,931 at today’s exchange rates)

The English judiciary, it should be noted, have been extremely vocal recently, as regards judicial salaries and significant changes to the judicial pensions scheme, with the consequence that judicial salaries in England and Wales are to be uplifted by 3% (in excess of standard inflationary increases).

See, for example:

Legal historians might be interested to note that Bermuda’s judicial salaries have certainly increased since 1789, when the Chief Justice of Bermuda was paid an annual salary of GBP 580, according to Volume 44 of the Journals of the House of Commons (extract below). This would be about GBP 79,000 in today’s money (taking into account inflation between 1789 and 2016).

Bermuda Judicial Salaries in 1789

 

 

 

 

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