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Our View: Decision on judges’ salaries was wholly predictable

AS WAS expected the district court judges won the appeal against the cuts to their salaries, the Supreme Court ruling last week that this was in violation of Article 158.3 of the constitution. The article states clearly that “the remuneration and other conditions of service of any such judge shall not be altered to his disadvantage, after his appointment,” and once appeals against the pay-cuts had been filed the Supreme Court had to base its decision on the provisions of the constitution.

For the layman, it is very difficult to understand why a provision that was included in the constitution to protect the independence of the judiciary could have been cited when this independence was not being threatened in any way by the executive. The pay cuts had been imposed on everyone employed in the public sector, because the Cyprus Republic is bankrupt and had to reduce the state payroll in order to receive financial assistance. This was no attempt to erode the independence of judges.

Then again, Supreme Court judges are much better qualified to interpret the provisions of the constitution than we are, even though we are entitled to hold the view that this was a moral rather than a legal issue and that judges were using the provision of the constitution to protect, not their independence, but their incomes. More than half of the 84 district court judges, who had filed an appeal against the pay-cuts, to their credit, recognised the moral dimension of the matter and withdrew their appeal.

However, 37 judges did not withdraw their appeals. It would be interesting to see how many of these would voluntarily contribute the equivalent of the pay-cut to the state, as some had pledged to do. The Supreme Court, in its ruling, expressed the hope that this “example would be followed by the rest of the applicants,” but this was quite clearly not a legal position as no law obliges applicants to give back any part of their income to the state, even in times of state bankruptcy. Were the Supreme Court judges introducing a moral element to their decision?

But even if all judges contribute the equivalent of the pay-cut to the state – we hope those who do not are named – they would still be better off than all other state sector workers, because their retirement bonus and pension would be based on their full salary, not taking into account voluntary contributions. Presumably, the constitution has no provisions ensuring the equal treatment of state employees, in times of national emergency.

 

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