A war of words ensured yesterday between judges and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court when a judge assigned to Criminal Court ‘B’, Judge Gevon Smith, described their L$15,000 monthly salary as a “mockery of judges.”
That utterance did not go down well with Chief Justice Francis Korkpor, who subsequently responded as saying, “judges need to be grateful with their current remuneration.”
The L$15,000 is equivalent to US$147 at the current exchange rate of US$1 to L$102.
Besides the L$15,000, judges receive US$5,000 each as allowance plus unspecified number of scratch cards, gasoline, medical and housing benefits.
Judge Smith publicly expressed his colleagues’ concerns when he delivered his charge at the opening ceremony of Criminal Courts, A, B, C, D and E, at the Temple of Justice yesterday.
“It is unequivocally stated in our code of ethics and judicial cannon that a judge must not engage in any commercial activities; his likelihood should depend strictly on entitlement as a judge,” Smith told his audience, including the Chief Justice.
“So, a judge who serves in such a position for over 15 years, when attained retirement age must receive 50 percent of his present L$15,000 monthly salary, which is L$7,500. This is a ridiculous situation against the judges,” Judge Smith noted before the huge crowd of fellow judges, lawyers and prospective jurors at yesterday’s ceremony.
“We expressed gratitude for considerable adjustment made in the allowances for judges, but when it comes specifically to the issue of retirement, the situation is laughable,” Smith told the gathering.
He reminded Chief Justice Korkpor that, “as we strive to attract more qualified human capital to the judiciary, it is proper to give attention to the issue of judges’ retirement.”
Smith, who compared judges’ retirement benefits to that of employees of other branches of government, particularly the legislature, said retirement benefits of former legislators, who after one legislative term were ousted by their constituencies due to poor performance, were receiving four times of what the judges were entitled to. He added that legislators are not barred from engaging in commercial activities.
“This is pure marginalization against the judges,” he added.
However, Justice Korkpor told the judges that they need to be grateful for the level of remuneration they were receiving.
“I know how things were like, I know the inner workings of the judiciary, and I know how much they were making, but they need to acknowledge where we have come from, and they need to be grateful for where we are going,” Korkpor said.
“I am not going to disclose the amount now, but they were receiving less money when we took over. They should encourage so that we could do more for them.”