Although largely quiescent after the Holyrood election (caused, as I understand it, by a Newsnetesque split between the vision of its proprietor, Sir Wimple Stanley Whipsot and its editor, Ecclefechan Mackay MA), I'm delighted to be able to bring you a new cross-post from the North West's organ of record, the Kinlochbervie Chronicle. Although the Herald appear to have covered the same story about Lord Hamilton's concerns about the implications of the judicial pay freeze for the lifestyle and quality of the third branch of our government, and belief that our judges aren't being paid enough, for my money, the Chronicle does the tale more justice...
“I’m forced to take a paper round”, admits top Scottish judgeby Ecclefechan Mackay MA, Political Correspondent.
It has emerged today that Scotland’s top judge, Lord Hamilton spends his mornings and evenings delivering hundreds of newspapers a week, just to make ends meet. Appearing before Holyrood’s Justice Committee, the Lord President of the Court of Session told startled MSPs that he rarely gets more than four hours of sleep a night, forced to rise at “sparrowfart” to ensure his New Town neighbours get their daily fix of news and the Lord President has enough money to cover the bare necessities of the judicial life.
“I’m just about keeping our head above the water, but it is a real struggle”, an exhausted Hamilton told Scottish politicians between rounds. “When I hit the bench some mornings, I barely have the energy to listen to learned counsel. But I struggle on.”
Despite collecting an average salary of £187,624 a year – a figure that compares with £128,296 earned by sheriffs – Hamilton said the public sector pay freeze had given rise to “a number of problems, not least that my fellow High Court judges are forced to eke out a life on just nine times the average Scottish salary, while the situation of sheriffs is even more dire, earning only six times more than most Scots. It is intolerable that such a situation has been allowed to persist in a civilised country.”
Figures secured by the Kinlochbervie Chronicle reveal that every single judge of the Court of Session undertakes some sort of casual work in the evenings and weekends, to top up their dwindling publicly-funded salaries. One Inner House judge admits “I’ve tried to do a bit of babysitting on nights, but it is difficult to get any work without a graduate degree, and even then, parents keep offering me unremunerated internships in “child custody”, with the promise of future, steady babysitting work when the economy upturns. I’m at my wits end, I really am”.
Lord Hamilton identified several “concerning implications” of the freeze, adding: “we were recently forced to appoint an illiterate Peterhead fishwife Sheriff Principal of Aberdeen in the absence of any other qualified candidate willing to struggle by on £128,296 a year. And I must say, I sympathise with many of those gentlemen who simply wouldn’t countenance it.” It is understood that Nanette Pirie, 63, will be retaining her wee morning cleaning job for a local office complex, to make up the shortfall in her judicial earnings.
Responding to Lord Hamilton’s concerns, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have confirmed that they will be researching the phenomenon of judicial poverty in Scotland “as a matter of the utmost urgency”. Rowntree research director, Gary Streeting, said yesterday: “It is vital that we care for our older people and recognise the particular financial pressures judges are subject to. Increasing wig rates, powder tax, gown bills, the dry cleaning. There are a great many hidden costs for judicial appointees, and many of these people are simply too proud to admit that they are struggling financially”.
One senior lawyer who did not wish to be named, Bertie Bunkum-Smythe QC, told the Chronicle, “Our judges really are in an intolerable position. With increased alcohol levies and the parlous rate of inflation, the cost of claret has substantially increased in real terms, while judicial salaries have stagnated. A decent drop is not to be had for less than fifty, sixty pounds a bottle.” In legal circles, it is feared that judges will only be able to secure “cheaper, inferior vintages”, discouraging applications from the best and brightest candidates for Scotland’s top legal jobs.
“I’m not drinking any fucking merlot”, one senior QC confirmed.