The retirement age of judges is currently set at 70 years old, as covered by the Judicial Pensions and Retirement Act 1993, s 26. However, it should be increased to 75, the reasons for which will be laid out in the following discussion. There is currently an on going debate as to whether the retirement age of judges should be increased, similar to the increase that has already taken place in other areas of the public sector such as in the eligible age of jurors which was increased from 70 to 75 in December 2016. Arguments in support of raising the retirement age to 75 include a rise of life expectancy since the introduction of the current legislation, a growing inability to recruit enough judges, an increase in retirement age for those in other areas and that many judges at 70 are at the height of their abilities due to their level of experience. However, arguments against raising the retirement level should also be considered. There is the issue of whether or not a judge, between the age of 70-75 is as mentally competent as they may have been at a younger age, there is also the argument that there is no need to increase the retirement age, but rather a need to keep judges from quitting due to low pay in comparison to private sector jobs and a belief that they are undervalued, alongside torrents of abuse aimed towards them by the media and general public.
The number of people supporting the idea of an increase in the retirement age for judges from 70 to 75 has seen a rapid growth over recent years, in particular, there has been increased support in this proposal from those with experience within the profession, such as the recently retired David Neuberger, who served as the President of the Supreme Court until September 2017 and believes in repealing the current law in order to allow judges to work until the age of 75. He argues that since there is a growing issue in the recruitment of qualified judges, we must begin to look towards those who wish to fulfil these roles but may not due to the current retirement age of 70 prohibiting them from applying or continuing.
Another argument used in support of raising the retirement age of judges to 75 is that there has also been a significant rise in life expectancy since the current legislation came into force. Between 1993-95 the average life expectancy for males in the UK was 73.83 years, whilst for females, the average life expectancy was 79.11 years, this has seen a significant rise as of 2016 to 79.19 years for men and 82.86 for women. The male average has seen an increase of 5.36 years whilst the female average has seen a slightly smaller increase of 3.75 years. These statistics are vital, showing that when the legislation was brought in, a man was not expected to make it to the original retirement age of 75, however, now both men and women are expected to live at least a further 4 years past the proposed increase in age, thus, it stands to reason that the current legislation is outdated and should be amended to better reflect the increased life expectancy. Those in favour of increasing the retirement age also argue that many within the profession are merely reaching the height of their abilities at 70, with the combination of experience from cases, years having studied the law and having made their way up through to high ranking positions, those at the age of retirement are far more likely to make a sound, reasoned, decision that provides true justice, when compared to those just entering the profession who lack experience, a sense of neutrality and a level head. Those at the peak of their powers are also likely to be good mentors to those with less experience, leading by example with decisions that a less experienced judge may not make without guidance.
There are however, those that may argue against an increase in the retirement age of judges to 75. Those against the increase raise the point that mental health is important for those in such an important role and that raising the retirement age to 75 increases the chances of a judge lacking the mental competency required of such an important professional. The main argument for those against increasing the retirement age of judges to 75 is that changing it would be the least effective way to solve the issues currently faced in the judicial profession. Whilst those in favour of raising the retirement age cite the current employment issue faced in the judicial profession as reason for the increase, they fail to note viable alternatives. Since there is currently a shortage of those suitably qualified to take on the role of a judge, it would stand to reason that recruitment methods and training should be analysed to see if reform is possible in order to help ease the current issue. Many current judges also say that if an alternative job was available to them, they would quit their current role as a judge due to feeling undervalued, underpaid and having to deal with regular abuse. These are all areas for improvement that could be looked at before deciding to raise the retirement age. The private sector also has a big pull for those currently and considering the judicial profession as the private sector will typically pay more and include greater benefits, as such, increasing the retirement age will arguably have little impact on the current issues faced unless the public sector jobs can begin to compete financially with the private sector roles.
My view on the matter is that the retirement age for judges should be raised to 75, under the condition that the following amendment is made to the Judicial Appointments and Retirements (Age Limits) Bill at some stage during the parliamentary process: judges maintain the option to retire at 70, however, all judges wishing to continue their role past the age of 70 have the option to do so, but must sit a competency test, which will be created by the Judicial Appointment Committee after which it will be sent to the Lord Chancellor for approval, upon which time, a commencement order may be issued for the Bill to come in to force. Should this amendment be made, it will help solve some of the issues facing the judicial profession, however, it is worth considering reformation to the recruitment process alongside an increase in pay to not only incentivise those within the profession already but those seeking employment within it. I would also suggest that it be possible for some judges to continue on past the age of 75 until they are deemed unfit to maintain their role, however, this may only apply to judges that are deemed to be of great public importance, such as those serving on the Supreme Court.
In conclusion, as stated in the beginning of my discussion, the retirement age for judges should be increased to 75, whilst doing so would not fully solve the issue of judicial recruitment, it would allow for those of sound mind to continue in their roles, in turn, allowing for more time in the short term to recruit replacements. Increasing the retirement age would also mean that judges would make decisions with more experience which would lead to a higher level of justice through better decision making. However, there are viable alternatives that should be considered if it is decided that increasing the retirement age to 75 is not the best course of action. Incentivising those who are looking at getting into the judicial profession and also those currently in the profession to remain within it until the end of their careers may also solve the current issues. I would however, support the Judicial Appointments and Retirements (Age Limits) Bill currently in Parliament with the added amendment of a test to ensure judges are of sound mind.