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Court OKs Newfoundland and Labrador judges’ salary hike

['Newfoundland Supreme Court Justice Alphonsus Faour is presiding over the Mount Cashel civil trial. — Photo by Barb Sweet/The Telegram<br /><br />']
Newfoundland Supreme Court Justice Alphonsus Faour. — Telegram file photo

Each provincial judge to get $32,000 more per year

Provincial court judges in Newfoundland and Labrador will each get a $32,000 annual raise, despite the government’s decision to deny them the salary increase.

In a ruling made public Friday, a Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court judge concluded that the House of Assembly’s decision to quash an independent tribunal’s recommendation to give judges the salary hike was unconstitutional, and ordered that the recommendations be implemented.

“(The government’s) response was found to be lacking in addressing the constitutional obligations of the government in the setting of judicial remuneration in several ways,” Justice Alphonsus Faour stated in a 63-page written decision.

The judges have been the lowest paid in the country and the increase would put them on par with their counterparts in the Maritimes.

In May 2016, the three-person Wicks Tribunal — appointed in 2014, led by St. John’s lawyer Bradford Wicks and charged with making recommendations regarding compensation for provincial court judges in this province — concluded that the judges should receive a 14 per cent pay increase over four years, taking salaries from $222,203.96 in 2013 to $247,545.88 in 2016.

The judges have been the lowest paid in the country and the increase would put them on par with their counterparts in the Maritimes.

The government, however, rejected the recommendation, saying it had to act in the interest of fiscal responsibility and that the recommended raise was too rich, as the province was facing a projected $1.8-billion deficit. The government also said it must treat all persons paid from the public purse equally.

That prompted the Association of Provincial Court Judges to file an application to Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court seeking a court order to have the tribunal’s recommendation accepted.

In the application, the provincial court judges suggested they were being unfairly singled out by a government wrestling with an unprecedented fiscal crisis.

“The zero per cent increase for judges is lower than increases received by public servants in the years 2013, 2014 and 2015,” the application stated.

It’s also lower than pay raises for the general population as tracked in average weekly earnings reports for the same period, the application noted — especially before oil prices collapsed in mid-2014.

In making his decision, Faour said he believed the tribunal gave thorough consideration to the submissions and the factors, including the fiscal capacity of the government. In particular, it reviewed evidence in documents from several senior officials of the Department of Finance attesting to the current difficulties. It noted that economic experts believe the fiscal difficulties are temporary and that economic conditions should rebound in 2019.

Faour said the constitutional obligations that the government failed to address included providing a rational response to the recommendations.

Also, “it failed to make a connection between the problem it outlined and the freezing of judges’ salaries, in effect, singling out judges for treatment unlike any other group in the public sector. There was no comprehensive, broad-based program of restraint.”

Faour said, in the government’s third obligation, it failed “to respect the process and make it effective. Nor did it succeed in achieving depoliticizing of the process. On the contrary, the systemic delay has rendered the tribunal process, at minimum, dysfunctional.

“The government should take immediate steps to more closely align the tribunal process with the period of time to be addressed. The serious politicization of the process has undermined the constitutional protections the process was designed to protect.”

There are about two dozen full-time judges and a handful of per diem judges in this province, covering a little over a dozen circuit locations around the province.

When contacted by The Telegram, several provincial court judges, including Chief Judge Pamela Goulding, opted not to comment.

Judge David Orr, who was a key player in the case, also chose not to comment yet, pointing out there are still some issues left to resolve, such as legal costs.

The Justice Department said it wasn’t prepared to comment Friday, but likely will be next week.

rosie.mullaley@thetelegram.com

Twitter: TelyCourt

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