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B.C. judges in court over pay increase

Jun 09 2012

A B.C. Supreme Court justice will take some time to decide whether to give provincial court judges a pay raise.

After three days of submissions, Justice Malcolm Macaulay on Thursday reserved decision on the civil lawsuit launched by the province's 146 provincial court judges against the B.C. government for refusing to increase their pay and benefits.

The suit against the attorney general was filed last October by the Provincial Court Judges' Association.

The association is seeking a B.C. Supreme Court order quashing a May 31 resolution in the legislature that rejected recommendations in the 2010 Judges Compensation Commission to increase judges' salaries and benefits.

The association is also seeking a declaration that the judges are entitled to the recommended remuneration, allowances and benefits.

The commission had recommended the judges not get any salary increase until 2013 because of the expected provincial deficits in 2011 and 2012. It recommended a cost of living increase in 2013-14.

But the legislature voted this down because the government had imposed a "net-zero" mandate - which does not allow for an increase in the cost of a contract - in public sector contract negotiations.

The government also said other civil servants' compensation was tied to judges' salaries, making any raise too expensive.

The judges argued that the policy of holding back wage increases should not apply to them because they are not public sector employees, but an independent branch of government.

The government also pointed out that that provincial court judges had received an increase of more than 40 per cent in salary, from $161,250 in 2004 to $231,138 in 2010.

In court this week, Joe Arvay, the lawyer representing the judges, said the net-zero mandate does not provide a meaningful response to the commission and is not based on a reasonable factual foundation.

The commission process was not respected because of the government's overarching concern with setting a precedent in labour negotiations, Arvay said. In addition, information given to the commission about the size of the deficit was inaccurate, he said.

He asked for an order for the report to be reconsidered.

In response, Jonathan Penner, acting for the attorney general, said the petition should be dismissed because the decision of the legislature was not irrational.

The legislature is responsible for the remuneration of provincial court judges, Penner argued. The Court of Appeal has also made it clear that in B.C., decisions regarding judicial compensation are legislative in nature.

The judges' submission ignores the fact that the Supreme Court of Canada has made it clear that across-the-board economic measures that affect all persons paid from the public purse are rational, Penner said.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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