B.C. judges ponder next step in pay dispute

Provincial Court judges in British Columbia are considering their position after failing in their latest bid for more pay.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice John Savage has told the Provincial Court Judges’ Association of British Columbia its members must “share the burden” of economic austerity.

Savage dismissed a judicial review brought by the association after the B.C. Legislative Assembly in 2013 rejected the recommendations of an independent pay commission.

Provincial court judges in B.C. earned $234,600 in 2013, according to the March 3 decision.

The B.C. Judges Compensation Commission had recommended provincial judges’ pay should increase by six per cent in 2013-14, among other compensation enhancements. But the Legislative Assembly said salaries would have to be frozen for a third year running, due to budget constraints.

A judicial review decision last year forced the provincial government to reconsider its position, and it increased its offer to 1.5 per cent.

The association then launched a second judicial review, calling for an order:
•    quashing the Legislative Assembly’s 2013 response to the pay committee’s report
•    declaring the response did not meet the standard required by the Judicial Compensation Act and the constitutional principle of judicial independence, and
•    declaring the judges were entitled to the remuneration.

But Savage found two of the three disputed recommendations were rejected for legitimate reasons, including that the fiscal climate in 2013 was felt to be more difficult than the commission’s 2010 report had envisaged.

He said: “The theme here is one of temporary austerity in which members of the judiciary share some of the burdens of an adverse economic climate during the years in question, after receiving significant increases in prior years.

“The constitutional guarantee of a minimum acceptable level of judicial remuneration does not shield judges from sharing the burden of difficult economic times, to limit increases.”

Although the association’s petition was dismissed, it was “successful on the major procedural issue which bore on the entire analysis, and one of three substantive issues,” he added.

The association could challenge the decision by filing a notice of appeal within 30 days of the decision.

Association president Lisa Mrozinski says her organization is studying the decision, and that she cannot comment further at the moment.

The association’s lawyer Joseph Arvay says he is unable to comment at this time.

A B.C. Ministry of Justice spokeswoman confirmed costs were not being sought.

In an e-mailed statement, Minister Suzanne Anton said: “[The] government carefully reconsidered the 2010 Judicial Compensation Commission report and the Legislative Assembly unanimously supported [the] government’s response. The decision from the B.C. Supreme Court supports our position.”

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