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Judges win claim over pension scheme changes

High Court Judges led by Lord Chancellor Liz Truss and Lord Chief Justice Baron Thomas of Cwmgiedd – walk to Parliament after the annual service that marks the start of the legal year

The government has lost a legal case over the way it changed the pension scheme for the UK's judges in 2015.

The central London Employment Tribunal has upheld a claim by 210 judges that they suffered age, race or sex discrimination during the change.

When the new, less generous, scheme was introduced, older judges were allowed to stay in their old scheme until they retired or for an interim period.

The tribunal decided this was unlawful discrimination against younger judges.

In its ruling, the tribunal said: "The respondents [the government] have treated and continue to treat the claimants less favourably than their comparators because of their age.

"The respondents have failed to show their treatment of the claimants to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

"The respondents have failed to adduce any evidence of disadvantage suffered by the fully protected and the taper-protected groups of judges which called for redress, or any social policy objective which was served by treating those groups more favourably and the claimant group less favourably," the tribunal ruling added.

Exemptions

In the early years of this decade, the government decided to overhaul all of the public sector pension schemes covering millions of workers, for instance in local government, the NHS, education and the civil service.

Generally this meant that for future service, workers would have to pay higher contributions, retire later and accrue pension entitlement on a less generous "career average" basis, rather than enjoy the traditional final-salary calculations from which they had benefitted before.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Hundreds of thousands of public sector workers struck in 2011 against proposed pension changes

In order to sweeten the pill for existing judges, the government decided in 2013 that those who were within 10 years of their normal pension age, as of April 2012, would be excluded from the requirement to switch schemes.

In effect, that meant that three-quarters of the then judges would not be affected at all.

Some others as of that date, who were aged between 51 years and six months, and 55 years, were given "transitional" protection from the changes until September 2025 at the latest, when they too would have to switch schemes.

'Great victory'

Altogether the protected groups amounted to 85% of all judges, leaving just 279 to feel the full force of the change, to a much less generous pension arrangement.

Most of those younger judges objected.

Shubha Banerjee from the solicitors Leigh Day, who represented 204 of the judges at the employment tribunal, said: "This is a great victory for our clients, many of whom sit alongside older judges who were appointed some years after them but who are, in effect, paid more purely because they are older."

"The fact that there is a significant number of female and BME judges in the younger group simply compounds the unfairness of the changes that were made to judicial pensions."

The government will now have to decide what to do.

"We are disappointed by the court's findings and will be considering whether to appeal [against] the judgment," said a spokesman for the Ministry of Justice.

The next step would be an appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

Leigh Day suggested that the government's defeat in the judges' case could have important implications for members of other public sector pension schemes, such as those for teachers, firefighters and prison officers, where it said transitional arrangements had also disadvantaged some members.

But Claire Carey, at the specialist pension law firm Sackers said: "That would depend on the precise transitional provisions other schemes have got, how long they lasted for, and also on the aims underlying them."

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