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Public sector pensions back in the frame after judges win ruling

Public sector pensions back in the frame after judges win ruling

The government has lost a legal claim by 210 judges that they suffered age, race or sex discrimination as a result of a 2015 rule change.

When a new and less generous scheme was introduced, older judges were allowed to stay in their old scheme until they retired or for an interim period. However, a central London Employment Tribunal rules that decided this was unlawful discrimination against younger judges, according to the BBC.

In its ruling, the tribunal said: ‘The respondents have failed to show their treatment of the claimants to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

It said the government failed to show that the older judges would have been disadvantaged by treating the younger judges equally or that any other social purpose had been fulfilled by its policy. 

The judgement found that the Ministry of Justice and the lord chancellor, now the justice secretary, Liz Truss, had discriminated against younger judges by making them leave the judicial pension scheme in April 2015 while allowing older judges to remain in it.

The case links back to the public sector pension reforms pushed through by the coalition government at the start of the decade.

In general the reforms changed the basis of pension accrual for public sector schemes (by and large unfunded defined benefit schemes) from final salary (where retirement income is calculated based on the final years’ salary, typically the highest of a workers’ career) to career average (which for many, especially high earners, was less generous).

However the government decided in 2013 that judges within 10 years of their normal pension age, as of April 2012, would not be required to switch to the new scheme. To avoid a cliff edge, some aged between 51 years and six months, and 55 years, were given ‘transitional’ protection from the changes until September 2025.

The result was that 85% of all judges had some form of protection. Just 279 were hit by the reforms in full.

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.’

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: ‘We are disappointed by the court's findings and will be considering whether to appeal [against] the judgement.’

Leigh Day suggested the ruling could have important implications for members of other public sector pension schemes, such as those for teachers, firefighters and prison officers. It said transitional arrangements in these schemes had also disadvantaged members.

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