Attorney-General George Brandis has blamed the lack of some Federal Court judges on the fact that they don’t get a pension, saying that some judges move into state courts where a pension is offered when they retire.
The failure to replace some retired Federal Court judges has been criticised by the legal community, who say it causes lengthy delays in the Family Court during custody battles. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Federal Circuit Court chief judge John Pascoe urged the Attorney-General to make timely appointments last year so that the court could handle its caseload.
But Brandis told a Senate estimates hearing this week that he has filled the court’s only two vacancies, pending the approval of Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove. The Family Court is still short one judge but is likely to lose five judges over the next two years as they reach the retirement age of 70. Six Federal Circuit Court judges will also hit 70 over the next two years.
“I wish I had more judges,” Brandis told the hearing.
“I wish the aggregate number of judges was greater but there are resource implications. I wish I could offer judges a pension like intermediary state and territory judges receive, so as to regularise the arrangements of this court.”
Federal Circuit Court judges are the only federal judicial officers excluded from receiving a pension after they retire under the Judges’ Pension Act. The Herald estimated that a retiring Federal Court judge (who had been on the bench for a decade) would receive a pension of more than $250,000 per year but a Federal Circuit Court judge would get nothing.
Brandis said the lack of pensions “presents problems in recruiting judges to that court (and) keeping judges on that court.”
When asked by Greens senator Nick McKim why the Coalition didn’t pass laws to introduce pensions and raise the limit on the total number of judges, Brandis said there was not much money in his portfolio and said the Coalition had a self-imposed rule against spending new money without offsets in the same portfolio.